Another Terminator so soon?

The first Terminator came out in the ’80s, Terminator 2 came out in the ’90s, and Terminator 3 came out in the ’00s — and, as I noted in my review of that last one, each film reflected the unique political and cultural mood of its decade quite well.

Now, alas, it looks like whoever owns the sequel rights is going to ruin my one-film-per-decade analysis by rushing a fourth film to production in the next few months — and quite possibly without any of the stars of the first three films. No Nick Stahl, no Claire Danes, no Edward Furlong, no Linda Hamilton … not even California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Speaking of which, Lynne McNamara noted in yesterday’s Vancouver Sun that the new film might very well end up shooting here, which is ironic, since Terminator 3 was supposed to film here as well, in 2002, until Arnold pulled the plug and moved the production back south to California, where concern over runaway productions might have hurt his bid to become governor.

The studio denied that that was the reason for the change of plans at the time, but during Arnold’s successful run for office in September 2003, he told a business meeting in Dana Point (as quoted at the time in a Vancouver Sun story):

“Let me tell you a story, a personal story,” he told his audience. “When I started to film the movie Terminator 3, they wanted the movie in Canada. I want to shoot it in California.

“They said, well, it’s an $8-million [US] difference. So I said, let’s sit down, let’s talk about it. We sat down with the producers and the different heads of the different departments and after a week of talking and going back and forth, everyone was willing to kick in some money.

“I put in personal money of mine, the producers and the heads of department were willing to shave a little bit off the budget and we were able film the movie Terminator 3 right here in Los Angeles and around the Los Angeles area.

“And at the same time helped create jobs, hundreds of new jobs, and that’s what I want to do as governor. I want to bring businesses back to this state.”

Want to add another layer of irony to all this? I was at an Arnold Schwarzenegger press conference before all this, when The 6th Day (2000; my review) came out — that film had also been made here, so Arnold came north to promote it when it opened — and when someone asked him how he felt about “runaway productions”, he said it only made sense for the studios to spend their money in places like Canada, because after all, the American studios dominate the Canadian theatres and take all our money at the box office anyway. In person, Arnold is just as charming as what you see on the talk shows — and like good any politician, he knows how to say just what his audience wants to hear!

FWIW, I love the original film but have always considered the sequels — yes, even T2 — somewhat sub-par and apocryphal. But then, I always get a little nit-picky wherever time travel is concerned. Click here for an essay I wrote back when I was only 20, explaining why I preferred the first film to the second.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose — trailer now online!

Many thanks to Jeffrey Overstreet for linking to the brand new trailer for The Exorcism of Emily Rose, an upcoming film, based on the true story of Anneliese Michel, about a priest who is tried in court for the death of a woman he tried to exorcise.

The true story took place in Bavaria, but the film will probably take place in the United States; any resemblance to recent events in Romania is, presumably, purely coincidental.

The film is directed by Scott Derrickson from a script he co-wrote with Paul Harris Boardman; the two also collaborated on the screenplays for Urban Legends: Final Cut (2000) and Hellraiser: Inferno (2000), the latter of which Derrickson also directed. Derrickson also contributed to the writing of Wim Wenders’ recent film Land of Plenty (2004), and it is said that a certain biblical story element in Wes Craven’s Dracula 2000 (2000) was put there by Derrickson when he gave the script an uncredited polish.

Did I mention a certain biblical element? Yes, Derrickson, for all his love of horror films, is a Christian; I met him when he and I both spoke at Regent College‘s ‘Through a Lens Darkly: The Sequel‘ conference in 2003, and I believe the first thing he said to me was to thank me for using a clip from Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru (1952) in my presentation; that, he said, is his favorite film of all time.

We didn’t chat anywhere near as much as I would have liked, so I was excited when I heard that (1) he was directing a new movie about a real-life exorcism, and (2) he was shooting the film in Vancouver. I tried to get an interview with him while the production was in town last fall, but alas, penetrating the publicity department’s bureaucracy proved impossible. However, the film is coming out in just a couple months, and I’m hoping I can claim a bit of the time he’ll be allotting to promoting the film.

Interesting, BTW, to see The Mothman Prophecies‘ Laura Linney in yet another movie based on a real-life supernatural story.

And since this film will be compared to The Exorcist (1973), I may as well link to my last post on that movie and its sequels.

Wilberforce coming to the big screen?

The Guardian, in its recent story on the “stealth marketing” of the upcoming Narnia movie — whereby schoolchildren will receive promotional materials for the film in the guise of educational materials — passes on this interesting piece of news:

[Walden Media head honchos Cary] Granat and [Michael] Flaherty also had a meeting with deputy prime minister John Prescott, in relation to plans surrounding a biopic, planned for release at the end of 2006, of William Wilberforce (Prescott is, like Wilberforce, a Hull man); 2007 will see a large-scale British celebration of Wilberforce’s achievements, in which Walden plans to be involved with “a solid education programme”, according to Flaherty.

Walden Media has been developing a project along these lines for some time; their web site includes an apparently out-of-date page devoted to the film, which says the upcoming film, called Amazing Grace, will be written by Colin Welland (Chariots of Fire). But a story that appeared in Variety just three months ago says the film will be directed by Michael Apted (Enigma, The World Is Not Enough, the Seven Up series) from a screenplay by Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things). The eclectic list of producers currently includes Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line), Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond) and Ken Wales (Christy).

And for those who don’t know what Wilberforce’s achievements were, the Walden page sums them up thusly:

Amazing Grace is based on the true story of William Wilberforce, a British statesman and reformer from the early part of the 19th century. This feature film will chronicle his extraordinary contributions to the world, primarily his 20-year fight to abolish the British slave trade, which he won in 1807. He was also instrumental in passing legislation to abolish slavery in the British colonies, a victory he won just three days from his death in 1833.

Could be interesting, not least because it could be the first Walden movie that is not based on a story from another medium.

DVD re-issues — here we go again!

Two upcoming movies have prompted two new DVD re-issues.

Actually, one of them isn’t really new at all. If Amazon is to be trusted — and I’m not sure it is — apparently the 1980s BBC version of The Chronicles of Narnia won’t be coming out in the United States until next Tuesday, though it has been available in Canada for quite some time. True, DVD Empire — to pick just one other online vendor off the top of my head — does indicate the set has been available Stateside since August 2002; however, the cover looks slightly different (note the corporate logos). If this new set is a re-issue, then it is interesting that Amazon has no trace of the earlier version.

On the other hand, it looks like Wallace & Gromit in Three Amazing Adventures will be a brand new release, apart from the actual films of course, which were first released on DVD by Fox in 1999, then by Warner in 2001. Now it’s Dreamworks’ turn — that’s the studio behind the upcoming feature film The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. I haven’t a clue whether the new set will include any of the extras available on the earlier discs, but I do believe a few W&G; shorts have been produced over the last few years, and I guess those might be included on the new disc.

Canadian box-office stats — July 3

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. & Mrs. Smith — CDN $13,880,576 — N.AM $143,584,000 — 9.7%
Madagascar — CDN $15,485,054 — N.AM $170,800,000 — 9.1%
Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith — CDN $32,022,988 — N.AM $365,496,000 — 8.8%

Batman Begins — CDN $12,873,237 — N.AM $151,146,000 — 8.5%
George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead — CDN $1,219,754 — N.AM $16,176,000 — 7.5%
War of the Worlds — CDN $7,410,452 — N.AM $100,207,000 — 7.4%
The Longest Yard — CDN $10,453,370 — N.AM $147,613,000 — 7.1%
Bewitched — CDN $2,703,063 — N.AM $38,606,000 — 7.0%
Herbie: Fully Loaded — CDN $1,832,657 — N.AM $35,001,000 — 5.2%
Rebound — CDN $129,416 — N.AM $5,000,000 — 2.6%

Half-way to the top ten list

Alas, my header doesn’t rhyme, but a week or two ago, the stores here had their “half-way to Boxing Day” sales, and this reminded me that we are now half-way through the year and, thus, half-way to that point when I will have to come up with a list of my top ten movies. And the pickings are looking kind of slim, so far.

There are a few, and only a few, movies that I consider shoo-ins:

Batman Begins
Born into Brothels
Dear Frankie
Hotel Rwanda

After that, possible contenders, based on those films that were given a general theatrical release of at least one week in Vancouver during 2005, include:

Les Choristes
Cinderella Man
Howl’s Moving Castle
The Merchant of Venice
Million Dollar Baby
War of the Worlds

And that’s just based on the titles that stand out a little as I do a quick, casual scan of my film journal for this year; I would have to see most of these films a second time before I could say whether they really belong on my list, and in a few cases, I can’t say I actually want to sit through them again, right now.

Unfortunately, I have also missed a few films that sounded interesting but left town too quickly, while I was working on other things. Anyone want to recommend anything?

JUL 28 UPDATE: I am now adding Moolaadé and Murderball to my list of very strong contenders.

The Matrix redux — spoilers galore!

I finally got around to watching the Matrix trilogy (1999-2003) with some friends last night. We watched just the three films — no cartoons, no video-game clips, no bonus features — and I was actually quite pleased to see how consistent they all were on an aesthetic level. Even though the first film was produced independently of the other two, and on a smaller budget, the series as a whole is closer to The Lord of the Rings than, say, any three Star Wars films that you might combine, in this regard.

On the other hand, I was struck once again by the films’ dramatic inconsistency, and how unsatisfying the third film is, in the way that it loses track of the Matrix itself and becomes just one big war between two sets of machines over the fate of a bunch of supporting characters that I, for one, have never really come to care about. Neo and Trinity are wounded or out of the picture for something like a solid half-hour while the war wages in Zion, and Morpheus is pretty much just a passenger on Niobe’s ship while she rides to the rescue. And when Neo does become the focus of the story once again … well, I still don’t really know how to make sense of it all, actually. There’s blinding light here, blinding light there, blinding light everywhere, but after two viewings and some discussion with my e-pals, I’m still not sure what it all means.

And sometimes the consistency applies as much to the series’ weaknesses as to its strengths. Prior to last night, the main thing I had remembered about Trinity was her interminable death scene in the third film, where time’s a-wasting and Neo has to beat the clock and save humanity as soon as possible … but first, Trinity, despite having metal rods poking through her body in some vital places, must summon the will and the strength to talk, and talk, and talk, and thereby bid farewell to Neo before she passes away. But watching all three films together last night, I realized that Trinity had always been like this. In the first film, when she and Neo are standing by the phone booth, they don’t follow Morpheus out of the Matrix right away; no, instead, Trinity decides that now would be a good time to talk, and talk, and talk, and, oh, maybe allow that homeless man over there to be possessed by Agent Smith and thereby block Neo’s escape from the Matrix.

Still, I did like the way some motifs were repeated across the films. Remember the black cat that Neo sees when he has a moment of “deja vu”? Remember how we are told that “deja vu” is what happens when the world is “re-set” somehow? And remember how, on that occasion, the “re-setting” of the world was a bad thing? I believe it is that same kitty which approaches Sati as the world is “re-set” in a good way at the end of the third film; and once again, the “re-setting” compels the cat to re-walk several steps. Cute.

FWIW, I reviewed The Matrix, Reloaded and Revolutions for the Christian press when they first came out, and my response to the trilogy hasn’t really changed. But watching the films now, after certain other things have transpired, was interesting.

For example, after the sequels came out, I got around to reading The Da Vinci Code and learning about the Merovingian dynasty’s claim to have been descended from Jesus and Mary Magdalene … so the fact that the Merovingian’s wife is played by Monica Bellucci, who went on to play Mary Magdalene in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004), stood out for me this time.

Meanwhile, I was struck by the scene inside the training program with the woman in the red dress, where Morpheus teaches Neo, “If you are not one of us, you are one of them.” Gosh. Spoken like a certain much-reviled American president. Or a Sith lord. But Morpheus and Neo are the heroes! Oh, but wait, they are also terrorists. Are terrorists heroes, then? Are heroes terrorists? Your answer may depend on whether you agree with those who think the sequels proved the traitor Cypher’s point — that the system has won and there is no point in fighting it, therefore any resistance to the system is futile at best or harmful at worst.

And the sight of a helicopter smashing into an office tower and blowing up has a whole different resonance now, doesn’t it?

Alas, these films did not turn out to be the timeless tale for the ages, a la the original Star Wars trilogy, that many people hoped they would be. But they are still reasonably stylish and entertaining, and an interesting snapshot of their own time.

UPDATE: One more trivia note: in the sequels, Dozer’s widow Cas is played by Gina Torres, who also played Zoë on Firefly; that short-lived series was broadcast in the months before The Matrix Reloaded came out, but I believe the films were shot first.

My Summer of Love

I gather My Summer of Love has been out in Britain for a while, and might even be on video there now, but it just opened this past weekend in Canada. I caught it at a press screening a week and a half ago — and since I didn’t jot my thoughts down at the time, my memories of it have already faded somewhat since then — but I do remember thinking it was an interesting little flick, at least where the relationship between the two women is concerned.

However, I can’t say I cared for the film’s treatment of religion or Christianity. Apparenty the main character’s born-again brother Phil, played by In America‘s Paddy Considine, is not in the original novel and was added to the story by director Pawel Pawlikowski — and since this character is a big, big part of the film, I can only wonder what the original story did without him. But the thing that gets at me is not the depiction of this particular character, per se, but the depiction of the other Christians around him.

We are supposed to believe that Phil just got out of prison, and that he found God in there. But how did he find him? Is there a discipler, or spiritual director, in Phil’s life — someone he might be accountable to? As far as the film is concerned, there sure doesn’t seem to be; instead, once he’s out of prison, Phil begins hosting meetings and leading various initiatives, and the other Christians just follow him around, like a mass of anonymous faces.

Did they all convert because of Phil, and does this explain why they let him do whatever he does, even when it is highly questionable and the sort of thing that might ordinarily provoke some debate (such as shutting his grown-up sister inside her room)? Doubtful, as there probably hasn’t been enough time for Considine to create so many of his own followers from scratch. Were they all Christians before him, then? Doubtful, since they seem, if anything, even less mature in the faith — though that may be because they are less developed as characters in general.

Considine has said that he researched the role by attending an Alpha course, and I think his performance is as authentic as it can be, given the demands of the script. But there is a scene near the end of the film where a woman almost seduces Phil, and then she laughs and says, “You’re too easy!” And that is how I feel about the film’s portrayal of faith in general — the director has made it “too easy” to expose these characters as frauds and dupes, etc.

But I gather some people disagree and think this film rings true anyway. Feel free to try to persuade me I’m wrong.

Newsbites: War! Ebert! Bourne! Slump!

Just another handful of items here…

1. I’ve added some comments to my War of the Worlds post.

2. Elbert Ventura writes on ‘Roger Ebert’s rise to mediocrity‘ in The New Republic. FWIW, one of the major exhibits in his arsenal is Ebert’s review of the Adam Sandler version of The Longest Yard, which is an interesting conversation piece in its own right.

3. Tony Gilroy is going to write the third Bourne movie, reports; he also wrote The Bourne Identity (2002) and The Bourne Supremacy (2004; my review).

4. That box-office slump we keep hearing about? It’s affecting the rest of the world, too, reports the Los Angeles Times; and that includes Canada, reports the Canadian Press:

Movie attendance at both theatres and drive-ins – there are 54 of them – dropped 4.6 per cent in 2003-2004, halting an upward trend of more than a decade, Statistics Canada reported Tuesday. The lack of movie-goers also hit theatre company revenues and profits. Profits alone fell 15.8 per cent, the motion picture theatres survey showed.

There were nearly 118.2 million tickets sold at movie theatres during the year, nearly five per cent fewer than in 2002-2003.

The decline from 2002-2003 went along with a small increase in the average admission price, which rose to $7.45.

Alberta is the province with the most frequent moviegoers — though it’s still only 4.6 times a year — while Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, and my own British Columbia also rank above the national average of 3.8 trips to the theatres per year.

“A review should be easy”?

CT Movies recently posted some more reader feedback, including the following response to one of my reviews:

I did not agree with your review of Herbie: Fully Loaded. A review should be easy. Was I entertained? Yes. Same goes for my entire family, neighbors and friends. We all agree that it was a wonderful and fun family film. If you want to read about how Herbie made me a Christian please visit Herbiemania.

“A review should be easy”? What does that mean? Easy to write? Easy to read? It should go easy on the film being reviewed?

Was I entertained? Well, no, not really. Can’t speak for any of my friends or family as I don’t think any of them have seen the film.

Hmmm. That was easy to write, I guess. Not very enlightening or fun, though. And it certainly doesn’t fill my word count.

Speaking of which, the most priceless comment comes in a letter responding to another writer’s review of Batman Begins:

Extensive space and celebration in your reviews goes to innocuous issues such as cinematography and direction while those things which should matter to followers of Christ were not mentioned, and your readers were left unwarned.

Yup, that’s right, Christians don’t need to notice trivial details like how a film is shot, directed, edited, and so on — we don’t need to know how a film constructs and communicates meaning — just as Christians don’t need to learn how to read, I suppose.