John Cleese joins The Day the Earth Stood Still reports that Monty Python and Fawlty Towers alumnus John Cleese — who has lately taken bit parts and supporting roles in the James Bond, Harry Potter, Charlie’s Angels and Pink Panther movies, among others — has joined the cast of Scott Derrickson’s remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still:

Cleese will play physicist Dr. Barnhardt, a Nobel Prize laureate who plays a key part in figuring out the mission and meaning of the arrival of the alien Klaatu [played by Keanu Reeves].

The part of Prof. Jacob Barnhardt was played in the original film by Sam Jaffe, and his performance has often been interpreted as a riff of sorts on Albert Einstein, who was still alive at the time. Presumably Cleese’s take on the character will be a little… different.

Toy Story — the entire trilogy in 3-D! etc. passes on the news that Disney and Pixar are not only going to produce Toy Story 3 in 3-D, they are going to re-issue the first two movies in 3-D as well.

The 3-D version of the original Toy Story (1995) will come out October 2, 2009 — one day after my birthday, and two days before the twins turn 3 years and 8 months old — and the 3-D version of Toy Story 2 (1999) will come out February 12, 2010, only eight days after the twins’ 4th birthday. And then, Toy Story 3 will come out June 18, 2010, when the twins are well into their fifth year.

Think I should take the kids? Think they’ll be old enough?

I really, really enjoyed taking them to see The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything last week, even though I don’t really know whether they “got” anything out of it. I don’t know how often I should do this — taking them to movies that might fly over their heads — but I’m looking forward to seeing another one with them sometime.

Meanwhile, in related news, last Sunday, I took the kids to a different church than usual, while my wife stayed home with the newborn, and when all the kids at church started watching Wallace & Gromit cartoons during the fellowship hour, my twins joined them — and a part of me was slightly miffed that it was other people’s kids and not me who was introducing my twins to those beloved characters, but another part of me liked the fact that the twins did seem interested in those films. That bodes well.

The twins actually demand to watch DVDs occasionally, now — so it’s too bad that the DVDs they hold up in the direction of the player tend to be all dinged and scratched and thus unplayable. (The DVDs in question are freebies that come with the diapers that we buy, so I don’t care what condition they’re in.) But once the videos are playing and the twins are sitting down, I still don’t see them react to the screen very much — the major exception in this regard being that 101 Dalmatians episode that I mentioned earlier. And of course, the twins don’t know enough English yet to really talk with us about the videos that they watch.

So I’m not entirely sure what’s going on in their minds, yet, when it comes to movies and such. But hopefully it won’t be too long before I get some sort of clue. In the meantime, I love the way my boy, in particular, starts hopping all over the room whenever the music starts playing over the VeggieTales end credits.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days — the review’s up!

My review of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is now up at CT Movies. The film opens in the United States today, and this review expands on the one that I wrote three months ago when the film opened in Canada. Incidentally, it seems that this film will finally be returning to Vancouver, at the VanCity Theatre, in April.

And the new James Bond movie title is …

The next James Bond film, which until recently had the working title Bond 22, now has a real title: Quantum of Solace.

At first glance, that doesn’t seem like much of a Bond title: it lacks the explicit references to living and dying of You Only Live Twice, Live and Let Die, A View to a Kill and The Living Daylights; it lacks the ostentatious displays of wealth implicit in Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever; it lacks the who-it’s-about or what-it’s-about factor of Casino Royale, Dr. No and Octopussy; it lacks the romanticism of From Russia with Love and The Spy Who Loved Me; it lacks the techno-threat secret-mission code-name quality of Thunderball and Moonraker; and it lacks the official bureaucracy implicit in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and For Your Eyes Only. And then there is The Man with the Golden Gun, which fits both the who-it’s-about and display-of-wealth categories, and may also fit the implicit-violence category.

All of those films took their titles straight from the books and short stories of Ian Fleming. And the films that didn’t use the titles of Fleming’s stories at least tried to sound like they did: Licence to Kill fits both the implicit-violence category and the official-bureaucracy category; Tomorrow Never Dies and Die Another Day also fit the implicit-violence category; and GoldenEye, which took its name from Fleming’s vacation home, refers in the film to another techno-threat and also has a hint of the old display-of-wealth. Only The World Is Not Enough seems to stand out on its own — but those words happen to be the Bond family motto, as revealed in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, so that title, too, harks back to the existing James Bond canon.

If anything, Quantum of Solace sounds like the title of a pretentious arthouse flick about a lonely particle physicist. But it turns out the new title has more in common with the titles of the Connery and Moore films than it does with the titles of the Brosnan films on at least one level — because Quantum of Solace was the title of an actual James Bond story written by Ian Fleming.

Since the filmmakers did such a fine job of rebooting the series with Casino Royale, which was the first James Bond film to be named after an Ian Fleming story in almost 20 years, I admire the fact that they want to continue in a vein that at least pays homage to Fleming’s writings — but I’m having a hard time picturing the words “Quantum of Solace” on a marquee or hearing them breathlessly pronounced by perky entertainment reporters.

At any rate, I can’t help wondering now what other unused titles the producers might turn to for the next film. All of the novels written by Ian Fleming have been turned into movies already; and the handful of short-story titles that haven’t been used yet are either kind of awkward in their own way, or are connected to stories that have already been absorbed into other films:

  1. Risico — plot elements incorporated into the film version of For Your Eyes Only

  2. The Property of a Lady — plot elements and titular phrase incorporated into the film version of Octopussy
  3. The Hildebrand Rarity — plot elements incorporated into the film Licence to Kill
  4. 007 in New York — sounds too much like a song by Sting

Incidentally, I had to laugh when Xan Brooks of the Guardian wrote: “I pity whoever has to write the theme song.” But it’s quite possible for a Bond theme song to make no reference to the title whatsoever; just look at Octopussy, which featured Rita Coolidge’s ‘All Time High’, or Casino Royale, which featured Chris Cornell’s ‘You Know My Name’. So that’s not too big a problem.

Oscar nominations — themes and trends

Just a few quick links to other people’s observations.

Brian D. Johnson of Maclean’s notes that this is turning out to be a very good year for Canadian films and nominees:

Some statistics wiz will have to do the math to confirm it. But at first glance this looks like the best year on record for Canada at the Oscars. With this morning’s announcement of the 80th annual Academy Award nominations, we can celebrate a whopping 10 citations for films directed by Canadians. They include four nominations for Juno, directed by Montreal-born Jason Reitman, including best picture, director, original screenplay—and a best actress nod for Halifax sensation Ellen Page. In a classic showdown between punk ingenue and iconic elder, Page will be competing against Julie Christie, named for her role as an Alzheimer’s patient in Sarah Polley’s directorial debut, Away From Her. The film also earned Polley a personal nomination for best adapted screenplay. Now a ridiculously mature 29 years old, Polley seems to be surrendering her “Canada’s sweetheart” title to the 20-year-old Page. But hey, there’s no reason Canada can’t accommodate two sweethearts; it’s a vast, cold country.

Other Canadian-directed movies honoured include David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises, with Viggo Mortensen up for best actor. And he’ll be competing with Tommy Lee Jones, who stars in In the Valley of Elah, directed by that Canuck scientologist, Paul Haggis. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I can’t remember the last time two nominees in each of the major acting categories were in films directed by Canadians. Ever since Haggis rudely stole Cronenberg’s title for his Oscar-winning feature debut, Crash, Cronenberg has harboured a justifiable grudge against this Hollywood Canadian. Now they can play out their rivalry once more. Too bad Eastern Promises didn’t get recognized for best picture or best director. What does Cronenberg have to do? Wait for a lifetime achievement Oscar?

Completing the Canadian nominations are two animated films shorts: Madame Tutli-Putli, a thrilling masterpiece of railway suspense from the NFB, directed by Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski; and Bravo!FACT’s I Met the Walrus, an inspired piece of baroque whimsy by Josh Raskin, which animates an audio interview by Toronto teenager Jerry Levitan with John Lennon during the fabled Toronto bed-in. . . .

Meanwhile, Variety notes that virtually all of the war-on-terror dramatic films, having already been snubbed by audiences, got snubbed by the Academy today, too — though war-on-terror films are well-represented in the documentary categories:

An entire subgenre was pretty much shut out: Aside from Tommy Lee Jones’ surprise nom for “In the Valley of Elah” and Philip Seymour Hoffman for “Charlie Wilson’s War,” the slate of Mideast-topical movies were ignored by Academy voters. That list includes “Rendition,” “Lions for Lambs,” “A Mighty Heart,” “The Kingdom,” “Redacted,” . . .

However, Kyle Smith notes that, even without the so-called war on terror, there was still lots of death and murder to go around:

This year the Oscars turned bloodier than an emergency room on a Saturday night in Detroit. All five of the Best Actor nominees are from movies about murder; four of the five Best Picture nominees are about bloody slaughter and in the sweet, nurturing Best Actress category we have a movie about a woman butchering Catholics, one about a tortured drug-addicted singer who dies in her 40s, and two about dying in a rest home. In the Supporting Actress category, there’s a film about a cold-blooded gangster who shoots people in the head in broad daylight and one about child kidnapping and murder. In the Supporting Actor category, there’s one in which the good guy is a mass killer called Jesse James.

If it weren’t for the movie about a guy in his 20s who starves to death, a lighthearted look at the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and a romp of a tale about a 16-year-old’s unwanted pregnancy, there wouldn’t be anything happy about this year’s slate at all.

Elsewhere, Jim Hill notes that Miramax, a Disney subsidiary, got lots of nominations for four of its recent films, but Disney itself did only so-so, bagging five nominations for Best Animated Feature nominee Ratatouille — which happens to be the only Pixar film that went into production without Disney’s approval — as well as a few nominations for Enchanted and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. But the biggest slap in the face to Disney may be the absence of any nomination for the animated short How to Hook Up Your Home Theater, which stars Goofy and was widely seen as a return to classic Disney form, being both hand-drawn and an old-style short cartoon that played before the main feature (the feature in this case being National Treasure: Book of Secrets).

And speaking of animation, here’s an observation of my own: The original Shrek (2001) was the first film to win the award for Best Animated Feature — which was seen at the time as yet another Disney snub, given that Disney’s success throughout the ’90s had stimulated interest in creating that award, and given that much of Shrek was devoted to spoofing Disney movies; the film was also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, but it lost that one to A Beautiful Mind. Shrek 2 (2004) was also nominated for Best Animated Feature, as well as for Best Original Song — but it didn’t win either, thanks to The Incredibles and The Motorcycle Diaries. And now, Shrek the Third has been nominated for … nothing.

Yet another movie not screened for critics.

Joe Leydon at MovingPictureBlog notes that Meet the Spartans, which opens this Friday, is not being screened for critics. That’s hardly a surprise, since the people who made this movie also made Epic Movie (2007) and Date Movie (2006), both of which were also released without being screened for critics first.

Meanwhile, in a shocking turn of events, Lionsgate has announced that there will be press screenings for Rambo … tomorrow! This film, too, opens on Friday, so that’s pretty last-minute.