Chariots of Fire sequel too “religious”?

The Guardian has picked up on the news that Rich Swingle is writing a sequel to Chariots of Fire (1981) — and the article claims that Swingle’s film will be called With Wings as Eagles, rather than Beyond the Chariots, which was the title of his one-man play.

This is interesting, because Ken Wales has talked about making his own sequel to Chariots called With Wings as Eagles. Wales is never mentioned in this article, so either Swingle has teamed up with Wales and the Guardian neglected to mention this, or there are two rival sequels in development using the same title.

The Guardian says Sue Pottle — the daughter of Harold Abrahams, the Jewish runner played by Ben Cross in the original film — is concerned the new film will overplay the religious angle. And this has Jeffrey Overstreet at the Looking Closer Journal concerned that the Guardian itself may be overplaying the religious angle in order to dismiss the movie before it has even been made.

I hate to quibble with Jeff’s post — especially since I agree that the secular media tends to get a bit paranoid whenever evangelical faith enters the picture — but a few points come to mind.

First, the title “Chariots of Fire” was probably derived not from the Bible, not directly, but from William Blake’s poem ‘And did those feet in ancient time‘, which formed the basis for ‘Jerusalem’, a hymn that is performed in the film and on the soundtrack album.

Second, it does not seem that the Guardian was “picking through the details of Rich Swingle’s life looking for something horribly suspicious.” Instead, the story states: “Swingle’s CV shows religion is a central theme in his work.” Looking to an artist’s past work for a sense of what his future work might be like seems fair, to me.

Third, Jeff claims that the original film “did not favor the Scottish Christian’s view over the English Jew’s view.” However, critics such as Margaret R. Miles have argued otherwise.

Finally, it does not seem so odd to me that the Guardian would describe Swingle as a “committed Christian”. The term is often used by self-professed “committed Christians” to distinguish themselves and others from “nominal Christians” and others who are not so, well, committed. If “we” can say it, why not the Guardian?

Besides, writers do sometimes critique the “committed” members of other faiths for making movies that reflect their beliefs.

Just look at the review of Red Corner (1997): “Using a faulty thriller for his soapbox as an outspoken critic of China, a devout follower of the Dalai Lama, and an influential supporter of Tibetan freedom, Richard Gere resorts to the equivalent of propagandistic drama to deliver a heavy-handed message. . . .”

And does not Dead Man Walking (1995) derive at least some of its power from the fact that we know Tim Robbins et al. are firm opponents of the death penalty, yet they made a movie that is more fair-minded than we might have had reason to expect?

Charles and Maher talk Religulous in Toronto

Variety reports from the Toronto International Film Festival:

Footage of “Religulous,” which amounted to an extended trailer, saw Maher poking fun at Christians, Jews and Muslims with equal dexterity. “God made homosexuals; man made Bibles,” quips Maher in one vignette musing on the major religions’ occasionally backward attitude toward sexuality. Other clips find Maher visiting the Vatican, Jerusalem and even a London underground underpass in search of the truth. Mostly, all he seems to find are punchlines.

Pic is virtually guaranteed to generate wells of ink when it finally bows. It’s been snapped up in all hot-button zones, with Falcon handling Arab-language territories and Forum the Israeli release. Charles described it as “pan-offensive.”

“People who say they’re religious say they’re humble, but they’re arrogant, because they say they have all the answers,” said Maher at the generally appreciative press confab.

“This isn’t a Michael Moore-style polemic,” said IM Global topper Stuart Ford. “The subject matter is very much of the moment. All the major religions take themselves too seriously. We’re saying it’s OK to laugh at yourself. Don’t take this stuff too seriously because it’s destroying the planet.”

The Charles and Maher double act added some much-needed laughs to a fest sked that has at times carried the world on its shoulders. . . .

Hmmm. I call myself religious, but I don’t think I would ever say that I have all the answers. I wonder what Maher means.

Meanwhile, in other news, the new poster for the film is here.

SEP 11 UPDATE: The Chicago Reader‘s On Film blog adds:

. . . Maher was quick to distinguish the project from mainstream movies like Evan Almighty that lightly spoof the Bible while leaving its bedrock assumptions unchallenged. As Charles put it, “Most movies tend to poke gentle fun” at religion, whereas “we want to stab it to death.”

As far as I could tell from the clips, that mercilessness seems to be the project’s chief asset. Real comedy requires a point of view, and whereas most MSM debates about religious matters try to manufacture a facade of fairness by respecting irrationality, the funniest segments screened tended to be the most unfair. In one scene Maher is interviewing an imam about the concept of the fatwa when the imam interrupts the interview to answer his cell phone. As he’s reading a text message, Charles and Maher superimpose their version on-screen. “What r my orders?” asks the sender. The imam replies, “Death 2 Bill Maher. LOL. :).”

Most of the other clips featured similar gags, with the sort of quick cuts to stock footage that we’ve all seen in Michael Moore’s movies. (One particularly choice sequence tells the story of Adam and Eve through a cheaply animated kiddie flick; whenever God appears, he does so in the person of the title character from the camp horror flick Leprechaun.)

Later, when the moderator opened the program to questions from the audience, one participant called Maher and Charles on their tactics, saying that it was one thing to let the interviewees hang themselves with their own words but another thing to take “cheap shots.” The difference in their responses was illuminating: Charles hotly advised the audience member to “make your own movie,” but Maher pointed out that it was a work in progress and said that, in keeping with the spirit of openness, they would keep his criticism in mind. Maintaining a certain amount of respect for the other side has made Real Time the fairest debate show on TV, but Maher’s unwillingness to suffer fools gladly has made it one of the most productive as well. We’ll see whether his movie can walk the same fine line.

UPPERDATE: The Globe and Mail adds these bits:

The twinning of power and violence . . . also came up at the Ryerson Theatre on Sunday during the discussion between Bill Maher and Larry Charles (the bearded and be-hatted writer and/or director of Borat, Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Entourage). They came to town with clips of their documentary-in-progress Religulous, which details the absurdities they see in Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

“Americans are now one of the leading torturers in the world,” Maher said. “And the government is run almost exclusively by ‘people of faith.’ It’s amazing to me how many evangelical Christians are okay with torture, considering how their boy got tortured so bad. But their Christianity isn’t about morals or ethics, it’s about saving their ass. They pray to Christ so that they can do whatever they want in this world, and he’ll forgive and protect them in the next. That’s ass-backward.”

“All these religions believe in end times, so there’s no need to believe in peace or working things out,” Charles said.

“We don’t need a person of faith in the U.S. presidency; we need a person of doubt,” Maher said. “We need a person who says, ‘I don’t know what will happen if we invade Iraq, let’s think about that.’ We have a person of faith, and it’s a mess.”

UPPESTDATE: Incidentally, I have to ask: Why does this film seem to be going after the three major monotheistic religions only? What about Hinduism or Buddhism or paganism or…? Surely a “pan-offensive” movie could be a little more inclusive.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

That’s the title they picked. So said Shia LaBeouf at the MTV Video Music Awards today, and the official Indiana Jones website confirms the announcement. Looks like the rumours were right.

Two Michael Moore films in one year!?

Brian D. Johnson of Maclean’s reports on the premiere of Michael Moore’s latest movie, Captain Mike Across America, in Toronto:

It’s a “concert film” documenting Moore’s Slacker Uprising Tour through 62 American cities in swing states during the final days of the 2004 presidential campaign. He appeared with performers including Joan Baez, Roseanne Barr and REM. The tour, he says, was an attempt “to save the Democrats from themselves.”

I decided to attend the premiere, rather than the advance press screening, because Moore would be in attendance, which is always a show. And it turns the film into a kind of 3D concert movie—a big tent rally with the live theatre audience cheering on Mike along with the crowds onscreen.

“This is a little secret project we’ve had laying around for a while,” Moore told the TIFF audience as he introduced the film. “We shot it three years ago and decided to put on the shelf, because we were just too depressed.”

It’s not clear exactly why he decided to release it now, but it’s a bit odd—watching one rousing arena rally after another in a buoyant campaign that we know is headed for a heart-breaking defeat. And no matter how genuine Moore’s motives are, this film won’t do anything to dispel arguments by his critics that his mission is fueled by a super-sized ego. Although the TIFF audience seem to love every minute of the movie, and gave it a standing ovation, I found it unsettling to watch Moore being introduced over and over again, in a Groundhog Day cycle of adulation. Also, there is more of Moore the hectoring politican than Moore the sly comedian here. . . .

Afterwards, Moore engaged in a Q & A, and cited a critic who asked him why he put so much of himself in the film. He said that’s like asking U2 why there’s so much Bono. Moore admitted he wasn’t exactly “easy on the eyes” and can’t bear to watch himself on the big screen (he sat through the premiere with Canadian relatives).

Moore also talked about being the target of a massive smear campaign. “It even comes from Candians now, this disinformation campaign about me.” And he said what he left out of the film, for fear of encouraging it, was a series of attempt assaults on him during the tour—ranging from a knife-weilding attacker who jumped onstage to a cup of “scalding hot” Starbucks coffee. (The guy must have ordered an extra-extra hot no-foam latte). . . .

Of course, what Moore apparently neglected to mention is that it is not merely Canadians who are openly criticizing his dishonest methods, but his fellow left-leaning filmmakers.

And it isn’t only sympathetic Canadians who are put off by Moore’s self-indulgence. Glenn Kenny at writes:

A portion of this Michael Moore picture, then called Slacker Uprising Tour, was screened at Cannes as a work-in-progess on the same bill as Sicko. It is not apt to supplant Sicko, or anything else, in Moore’s filmo. As an intertitle early in the picture admits, the movie is about Moore’s “failed attempt” to save John Kerry from himself after Kerry’s too-little, too-late response to his Swift-boating. For those who remain highly agitated by the results of the 2004 election, this picture, its upbeat “we gotta keep fighting” coda notwithstanding, might play as a particularly unpleasant bout of scab-picking (hey, there’s an alternate title for ya). In the final weeks before the election, Moore toured multiple cities in multiple swing states, trying to get out the vote. And this film is, well, a lot of footage from that tour, mostly of Moore addressing mostly adoring audiences. (Advertisement for Myself is another potential alternate title.) . . .

Elsewhere, James Rocchi at Cinematical writes:

Captain Mike Across America is easily Moore’s weakest film, a self-congratulatory mess that has nothing to say about the American political process and tells you everything you need to know about the numbing cult of personality that’s sprung up around Moore. It’s not so bad that there’s a cult of personality around Moore — as I’ve said of Moore before, some Americans are so desperate for someone to speak truth to power that they’ll settle for someone saying anything to it. What’s bad is that Moore seems to be buying into his own myth, now, and here that seems both narcissistic and futile. . . .

Moore’s weakest film? Even worse than The Big One (1997), which revolved around a promotional book tour? This I gotta see.

SEP 11 UPDATE: Lou Lumenick of the New York Post calls the film “a self-tribute documentary that shows how Moore may have played an even bigger role than even Osama in getting Dubya re-elected with his 60-city college tour in 2004.” Yowch.

There Will Be Blood poster goes biblical

Behold the new teaser poster for There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s Oil!, which stars Daniel Day-Lewis as an oil prospector and Paul Dano as a preacher:

As Jeffrey Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere writes:

You can’t say that a one-sheet using the suggestion of an old, dog-eared Bible to spread awareness of an allegedly violent period film about the oil business that’s based on an anti-capitalism book isn’t, at the very least, striking. It’s saying, obviously, that Paul Thomas Anderson‘s There Will be Blood (Paramount Vantage, 12.26) will address bedrock moral issues. Of course, all that blackness suggests somberness, bitterness and severity as well. But this is just a teaser poster (surfacing over three and a half months from release). Other themes and designs will surely follow.

And just in case you haven’t seen it yet, here is a collection of clips that made the rounds a few months ago:

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Click here if the video file above doesn’t play properly.

Restricted trailers for PG-13 movies?

Restricted trailers are popping up all over the internet these days … but the strangest have to be the ads for Robert Zemeckis’s Beowulf. Why are they strange? Because the makers of that film have already said that they are aiming for a PG-13 rating. So why would they raise the R-rated hopes of potential moviegoers?

Rumour has it that there might be an R or NC-17 version for IMAX theatres, but as far as I can tell, those are just rumours.

And of course there’s always the possibility — even probability — of an “unrated” DVD, but why would they advertise the DVD months before the movie has had a chance to play in theatres?

I have been idly wondering about this for a while, but it only came to the fore today after reading various posts on the subject at ScreenRant, Movie Marketing Madness, and The Movie Blog. Check ‘em out, and the comments as well.