Expelled — another two articles are up!

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed opens in Canada tomorrow, so I’ve got a couple new articles up — one for the religious media and one for the more mainstream media. Click here for my newest article in BC Christian News, and click here for my article in the Georgia Straight.

Is this an unusually good year for family films?

Time for another list: I just discovered that my friend and colleague Steve Greydanus pondered a few weeks ago whether this was shaping up to be the best year for family films in, like, ages. At a glance, there are only a couple of the many titles he mentions, both past and present, where I think my opinion would differ in any significant way from his. So, I think he makes a very good case. And of course, the year’s not yet half-over.

Yeah, this will make us want to see the movie.

The movie is Meet Dave. The star is Eddie Murphy. The director is Brian Robbins. And their last collaboration was Norbit (2007), which I admittedly have not seen, but in this particular case, I do not feel that that disqualifies me from passing judgment on the film. So, there are multiple reasons why we should all be fleeing Meet Dave in terror to begin with. And the people who made it think the best way to get us interested in their movie is to have a giant, ego-sized replica of Eddie Murphy’s head driving around Los Angeles? This is a case of road rage just waiting to happen. (Hat tip to Jeffrey Wells and Jason Apuzzo. Another Giant Eddie Murphy head that is making the rounds can be seen here, with co-star Gabrielle Union waving from inside Giant Eddie Murphy’s ear.)

Is it all downhill for directors after 62?

I like lists, and I like studying the passage of time, so I was intrigued when Patrick Goldstein ran the following list of directors to support his thesis that few directors are capable of making “big hit movies” after their 62nd birthday. (He raises this question partly because Steven Spielberg turns 62 in December.)

The first list here was compiled by Goldstein and notes which movies the directors in question made before they turned 62 and which movies they made after they turned 62:

  1. Francis Ford Coppola
    The Godfather, Apocalypse Now
    63+: Youth Without Youth

  2. Howard Hawks
    Bringing Up Baby, The Big Sleep, Red River
    63+: Hatari!, Red Line 7000, El Dorado
  3. George Roy Hill
    Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting
    63+: The Little Drummer Girl, Funny Farm
  4. Alfred Hitchcock
    The Lady Vanishes, Notorious, North by Northwest
    63+: The Birds, Torn Curtain, Topaz
  5. Elia Kazan
    A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront, East of Eden
    63+: The Visitors, The Last Tycoon
  6. David Lean
    Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago
    63+: Ryan’s Daughter, A Passage to India
  7. Mike Nichols
    The Graduate, Heartburn
    63+: Closer, Charlie Wilson’s War
  8. Sydney Pollack
    The Way We Were, Tootsie
    63+: Random Hearts
  9. George Stevens
    Woman of the Year, Giant
    63+: The Only Game in Town
  10. Billy Wilder
    Sunset Blvd., Some Like It Hot
    63+: Avanti, The Front Page, Fedora

Here are some other examples that occur to me — only some of which, I think, support Goldstein’s thesis:

  1. William Wyler
    The Best Years of Our Lives, Ben-Hur
    63+: How to Steal a Million, Funny Girl

  2. Stanley Kubrick
    Paths of Glory, Full Metal Jacket
    63+: Eyes Wide Shut
  3. Robert Wise
    The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Sound of Music
    63+: Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Rooftops
  4. Cecil B. DeMille
    The Sign of the Cross, North West Mounted Police
    63+: The Greatest Show on Earth, The Ten Commandments
  5. Martin Scorsese
    Raging Bull, Goodfellas, The Aviator
    63+: The Departed
  6. George Cukor
    Little Women, Adam’s Rib, Let’s Make Love
    63+: My Fair Lady, Rich and Famous
  7. Ridley Scott
    Alien, Blade Runner, G.I. Jane
    63+ Hannibal, Kingdom of Heaven, American Gangster
  8. William Friedkin
    The Exorcist, Cruising, Jade
    63+: The Hunted, Bug
  9. John Ford
    Stagecoach, The Grapes of Wrath, The Searchers
    63+: The Last Hurrah, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
  10. Fred Zinnemann
    High Noon, Oklahoma!, A Man for All Seasons
    63+: The Day of the Jackal, Julia
  11. Miloš Forman
    One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus, Valmont
    63+: The People vs. Larry Flynt, Man on the Moon
  12. Woody Allen
    The Purple Rose of Cairo, Deconstructing Harry
    63+: Small Time Crooks, Match Point, Scoop
  13. Michael Curtiz
    Captain Blood, Casablanca, Mildred Pierce
    63+: White Christmas, King Creole
  14. Roman Polanski
    Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, Bitter Moon
    63+: The Ninth Gate, The Pianist, Oliver Twist
  15. John Schlesinger
    Midnight Cowboy, Marathon Man, Madame Sousatzka
    63+: Cold Comfort Farm, The Next Best Thing
  16. Robert Benton
    Kramer Vs. Kramer, Places in the Heart, Nobody’s Fool
    63+: Twilight, The Human Stain, Feast of Love
  17. Robert Altman
    M*A*S*H, Nashville, Popeye
    63+: Vincent and Theo, The Player, Gosford Park
  18. Stephen Frears
    Dangerous Liaisons, Dirty Pretty Things
    63+: Mrs Henderson Presents, The Queen

And so on, and so on, and so on.

Yeah, I think Goldstein’s thesis doesn’t quite hold up; there are too many examples that falsify it. You pretty much have to do a fair bit of cherry-picking to make it stick, I think.

Newsbites: Treader! Fugitive! Zohan! Guru! WALL*E! Toy Story 3! Angels! Hamlet 2!

Time for a bunch of miscellaneous notes’n’things.

1. The Daily Mail says Will Poulter, who played the “bad boy” Lee Carter in Son of Rambow (2007), has been cast as Eustace Scrubb in the film version of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Whatever else might or might not go right with this film, that’s kind of inspired casting, really.

2. Variety has an interesting story on CBS Paramount’s peculiar decision to dump the background music from the second season of The Fugitive (1963-1967) and replace it with an all-new score, apparently hoping no one would notice. It’s one thing to release a “remastered” version of Star Trek (1966-1969) with souped-up special effects — and to openly promote it as such — but this…?

3. The Associated Press reports that Israelis are, on the whole, “flattered” by Adam Sandler’s send-up of Israeli culture and politics in You Don’t Mess with the Zohan.

However, the Globe and Mail says Hindus in Canada and the United States are calling for a boycott of Mike Myers’ The Love Guru. Don’t worry, guys, it’s not like anybody’s going to see it anyway; not counting a couple of films in which he was part of a broader acting ensemble, The Love Guru had one of the worst opening weekends of any film in Mike Myers’ career.

4. CT Movies editor Mark Moring interviewed WALL*E writer-director Andrew Stanton recently and got him to talk about his Christian faith and how it may have influenced the film, among other things. Jeffrey Wells isn’t taking to this very well:

You’d barely know from Moring’s side-stepping intro and Stanton’s many quotes that there’s a strong anti-corporate, beware-of-unbridled-consumerism, save-the-earth-before- it’s-too-late theology that runs all through WALL*E.

Pixar’s John Lasseter and his nervous-nelly lieutenants have clearly put the word out to downplay this aspect of the film out of fear that American Jabbas and other impulse consumers will avoid WALL*E if they get the idea that it’s some kind of lefty message flick that Al Gore would be proud to call his own.

I’m starting to feel vaguely offended, I must say, by a p.r. policy that’s totally fine with sucking up to Christian moviegoers (a conservative bunch that harbors a faction of global-warming deniers) but shilly-shallies away from acknowledging that a significant side of WALL*E is dealing with the most pressing and life-threatening issue of our time. Sorry, but there’s something a wee bit sickening about this.

Of course, there is nothing unique at all about the way Stanton has promoted the film to CT Movies; he’s making the exact same claims he has made to the secular media, about not intending the film to have an overt political message, etc., etc. And if CT Movies were really all that conservative, they might have gone after the film for that “stay the course” quip — but they didn’t, so.

5. MTV Movies Blog passes on the following bit of info regarding Toy Story 3, which is currently in production:

And one of those adventures may lead one favorite character to take center stage, revealed actor John Ratzenberger, who plays Hamm the Piggy Bank. “Hammy is a villain in the beginning of the movie,” he said. “[But then], Hammy becomes a superhero. You’ll see.”

Hammy was a villain at the beginning of “Toy Story” too — in one of Andy’s childhood play fantasies. . . .

But whatever madcap adventures are in store, we can apparently expect one thing…a lot more Mrs. Potato Head.

“[It’s] wonderful!” gushed Estelle Harris, who voiced the wedlocked vegetable. “I have a much bigger part. ‘Toy Story 2’ was my entrance, and I was a newlywed. But now, I’m still very much in love with Mr. Potato Head.”

6. CT Movies rounds up some of the stories out there that have reported on the Vatican’s decision to deny the makers of Angels & Demons access to their churches; apparently the Church’s objections to the earlier Dan Brown film The Da Vinci Code (2006) are only part of the reason for that decision. The New York Times says the more secular authorities in Rome are hoping the film will “relaunch American tourism” in the city just the same.

7. Yahoo! Movies has a clip of Steve Coogan performing the musical number ‘Rock Me, Sexy Jesus’ in a scene from the upcoming Hamlet 2. To paraphrase the Dane, there really are no words, words, words to describe this clip.

WALL*E — hypocritical? too political?

Say what you will about Evan Almighty (2007), but you can’t deny that the filmmakers went out of their way to underscore, and live up to, the movie’s environmental themes. When I went down to Los Angeles for the press junket last year, the studio even made a point of sponsoring trees in the reporters’ names, among other things.

So it is a little strange now to hear that WALL*E and the hype machine surrounding it have been sending out some incredibly confused signals. The film itself seems to be a moral, cautionary tale about a future in which advertising and consumerism have basically ruined the planet and sucked the life out of humanity — but the press junket exhibited these same negative qualities that the film is supposedly satirizing.

I mentioned this in my last post on the film, where I alluded to something a colleague of mine had said after attending the junket. Now Devin Faraci of CHUD.com has written a full-blown editorial asking whether the film is “environmental or hypocritical”:

The truth of the movie’s intentions can only really be known to Stanton. On some level you have to take a filmmaker on his word, even when that word appears to be ludicrous. Still, although he won’t cop to making Wall-E a movie with a wonderful, socially conscious message in mind, he does admit that getting such a message out of his film is a good thing. The question becomes will that message ever actually make it out of the movie and into kid’s heads? . . .

When I got to the Four Seasons hotel the next day, the site of the junket for the film, and saw an entire room dedicated to showing off the marketing tie-ins, I lost the sense of irony and began to think what I was seeing was flat out hypocrisy. I wondered if maybe Stanton’s denials about the messages weren’t coming from a marketing point of view but from simple shame. . . .

I’ve had people on the message boards tell me that this doesn’t matter, that the message is all that matters. But just saying something is pointless – which is actually another theme of the film. The movie ends up with the idea that sometimes you have to make hard decisions, sacrifice comfort and easy living to do the right thing, to make things better. To, quite literally, save the Earth. This is an inspiring message… that is immediately undercut by walking out of a movie theater into a world crammed full of landfill-choking plastic Wall-E crapola. . . .

The truth is that Wall-E feels like a really well-made stop smoking ad starring Joe Camel. . . .

It’s important to keep in mind that none of this has to do with the quality of Wall-E as a movie on its own; my review of the film, which did not send me into space the way it did other onliners, will come as soon as the embargo is lifted. And whether or not Andrew Stanton wants to own up to placing environmental and political messages in a film that includes a robot recreation of a protest riot has nothing to do with whether or not they’re there, but I think everyone seeing the movie this coming weekend will have to admit that these messages exist. And most of those people will have to also admit that they’re good messages, the kind we should be happy are included in a kid’s film. The problem is that these messages – intentional or not – are being undercut by a cynical marketing campaign that will likely have a bigger impact on kids than the movie itself. And worse than that, it’s a marketing and licensing campaign that will help advance us just a little bit towards the environmental devastation shown in the film.

Interestingly, the seemingly disingenuous pattern of putting overt political messages into the film and then denying that they are there — or at least denying that they are intentional — can also be seen in how writer-director Andrew Stanton has dealt with the “stay the course” issue, which I also alluded to in my previous post on this film. From MoviesOnline:

MoviesOnline: If you’re not coming with a political or ecological message, you do have stuff about consumerism and upstairs we have a whole product suite. Is there…?

ANDREW STANTON: I wasn’t trying to be anti anything. I think I was just trying to go “Look, too much of a good thing of anything is a cautionary tale.” Honestly, everything I did was in reverse. It was like I’ve gotta go with trash because I love what it does to my main character and it’s very clear, and then I went backwards from that. I said “Why would there be too much trash?” Well it’d be really easy for me to show we’d bought too much stuff and it’d be really easy to show that without having to have it explained and it’s kind of fun. It’s fun to be satirical like that. You know we all have that sort of Simpsons bent, you know. So I just went with what felt somewhat true. I mean I think we’ve always felt that we have to be sort of disciplined in that area.

MoviesOnline: You do use the phrase “Stay the course” in the movie. That’s a pretty overt political statement.

ANDREW STANTON: It just was such a natural thing to say at the time. I said “Screw it! It’s funny.”

However, Fred Willard, the actor who delivers the line, is pretty clear that there is a political subtext there — though that wasn’t the only thing inspiring his performance:

Flying into space seems like a fool proof plan, right? Nothing could ever go wrong there. “They asked if [I] based him on any political people. I based him more on the pilot of an airplane. We get on an airplane and that very soothing voice, ‘We’ll be taking off very shortly. Flying time is 3 hours and 40 minutes. Get comfortable.’ And then you sit a long time and something’s up. ‘This is your captain speaking. Unfortunately we have a little delay. ‘ And then by the end it’s, ‘I have some bad news. We’re going back to the gate. The flight has been cancelled. We should have you on another plane in no time.’ That night you’re in a cheap motel waiting to fly out the next morning. That’s his idea. Keep a good front, do the best they can. Everyone is doing the best they can but it’s out of everybody’s hand.”

When it is revealed how bad things really got, Willard’s character even says, “Stay the course.” “That’s obviously a salute, an homage, to George W Bush. It was in the script.”

It remains to be seen whether this line — and the context within which it is uttered — will tick off the average moviegoer to the degree that it has ticked off conservative bloggers such as Kyle Smith, who has not yet seen the film but writes:

This kind of crack, lame as it is, also breaks the spell of the movie by hurling you out of the theater and back into reality. Moreover, animated films take so long to put together that the jibe may have been written two or three or four years ago. It doesn’t look like quite such a laugh line these days, when staying the course against hurricane-level opposition actually seems to have changed the game in Iraq.

Interestingly, Wikipedia indicates that Bush used the expression “stay the course” repeatedly between July 2003 and October 2006, when staying the course didn’t seem to be accomplishing very much — but then he stopped using it, only a few months before “the surge” began and started turning things around. So that may or may not make the line seem even more dated.

(Though as my friend thomwade puts it, the fact that Bush would use the phrase only when his policies are failing but not when they are succeeding is “a definite layer of funny.”)