Religulous goes to Toronto.


Religulous had its festival premiere in Toronto the other day, so a few new reviews and interviews have popped up.

Karina Longworth, SpoutBlog:

Hopeful that [Bill Maher’s] feature-length collaboration with Larry Charles would offer a similar balance writ large, I went in to Religulous with an open mind –– which is more than can be said of Maher. The comedian-turned-political pundit/committed agnostic, and star and producer of this non-fiction film, explains early in the picture that he thinks organized religion of any kind is “detrimental to the progress of humanity.” Writing off the contents of the bible and all historical narratives of faith as “fairy tales,” he says he’s on a journey in search of an explanation as to how otherwise rational adults can buy into this kiddie stuff. “It’s too easy,” he complains.

Unfortunately, this last line turns out to be auto-critique: as Maher and Charles hop from backwoods America to international holy hot spots and back again. Maher continually flips the script, here using serious questioning not as an end, but a means to immature, unenlightening mockery. It quickly becomes apparent that Maher’s journey is not about finding out what makes religious people tick, but about using the tics of mostly fringe religious people to prop up the thesis Maher came in with. Which is––in a nutshell, but totally without irony––that everyday religious practice will soon result in global apocalypse.

James Rocchi, Cinematical:

But if Religulous were just a series of these kind of confrontations (and there are several of them, with Christians and Jews and Muslims and Mormons and more; Maher goes out of his way to be an equal-opportunity provocateur) it would quickly grow stale. Religulous also mixes in inventively shot and cut digressions about everything from the percentage of the American population represented by non-believers (16%, which Maher points out as a unheard, unfocused minority) to the more ornate points of Mormon theology (where the Mormon idea that Native Americans are one of the lost tribes of Israel is met with a short, sharp shock of a classic Mel Brooks clip). And just as in Borat, there are even great subtitle jokes annotating the matters at hand, like when the film points out the model triceratops wearing a saddle at a “Creation Museum,” or has arrows on-screen indicating the “infidels” in a scene shot inside a mosque, or delineates the similarities between the story of Jesus and the Egyptian god Horus, fact and images cut against each other to the bouncy chords of The Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian.”

Jeffrey Wells, Hollywood Elsewhere:

How funny is it? Somewhat. I was LQTM-ing for the most part. There were a few chuckles at the screening I attended, two or three haw-haws, but no horse laughs. But humor isn’t precisely the point. This is a very rational film about a rational point of view.

That said, there are two things that need to be understood about Religulous. They aren’t major stoppers, but they’ve been bothering me since I saw it a couple of weeks ago.

One, Charles hasn’t shot Religulous with an especially vivid sense of style or panache of any kind. . . .

And two, Maher-the-rationalist doesn’t once acknowledge the general feeling known to all humans and animals since the beginning of intelligent life that there’s surely some kind of cosmic connectivity governing this and other worlds.

The National Post covered the film’s press conference, and Rocchi interviewed Maher for the Cinematical podcast.

The film comes to the Vancouver festival later this month, and will be released across the continent October 3.

UPDATE: Reuters also speaks to Bill Maher and Larry Charles.

UPPERDATE: E! Online has a story on the mild controversy that greeted the film and its international poster in Toronto.

SEP 10 UPDATE: Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly:

Maher has come not to question religious dogma but to bury it. He’s out to burn holes in the Bible and to trash its literal followers–to declare open season on their contradictions and hypocrisies, heaping ridicule upon all they hold dear. Does he take cheap shots? I’m pleased to report that he does–more than you can count. Yet Maher, who is selling not Atheism but doubt, doesn’t disparage religion with the toxic misanthropy of, say, his fellow faith-basher Christopher Hitchens. Maher may be merciless, but he’s also curious–that’s why he’s such a terrific interviewer–and there’s a divine hilarity to his belief that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are fairy tales for adults. In Religulous, Bill Maher is like a sacrilegious rim-shot Joseph Campbell, ferreting out the links between our tall tales of God.

In addition to being funny as…well, hell, Religulous is a galvanizingly topical movie, since Maher’s ultimate concern is the connection between religion and politics in America today. It’s his view that anyone who is powerful enough to have his or her finger on the nuclear button should not be overly eager for the Rapture. You got a problem with that? Religulous might be called the first official movie jape of the Sarah Palin era.

For what it’s worth, I have no idea what sort of eschatology Sarah Palin subscribes to, but I find it curious that her religious beliefs are often brought up in connection with this film, while Barack Obama‘s religious beliefs — and those of the church he attended until very, very recently — seem to be off everyone’s radar.

The Day the Watchmen Stood Still.

Warning: There be comic-book spoilers here.

IGN.com has posted the newest video journal for Watchmen, Zack Snyder’s adaptation of the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons — and around the 1:49 mark, there is a brief glimpse of a theatre that is showing The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).

This detail happens to come from the graphic novel itself, but I had forgotten it was in there, so my initial reaction to this part of the video was one of amusement, since the film version of Watchmen was shot in Vancouver around the same time that Scott Derrickson was filming his remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still. Not only that, but Keanu Reeves was initially offered the part of a godlike superhero in Watchmen, and he ended up playing the Christlike alien Klaatu in The Day the Earth Stood Still instead — but since the two films were being made in such close proximity to each other, Reeves made a point of visiting the Watchmen set while they were both in town. So this could almost be a sort of in-joke between Snyder and Reeves. Almost.

However, as I mentioned, this detail is actually there in the original graphic novel as well, so it’s more of a coincidence than an in-joke. If I’m not mistaken, it first appears in Chapter 11 (out of 12), in the background to a sequence in which a psychiatrist suffering an existential crisis bumps into his wife on the sidewalk in Manhattan. Here’s a sample panel from that sequence:

The marquee with the movie title appears again, later in that same chapter, in one of several images that depict this intersection mere moments before it is hit by a sudden catastrophe:

And then, in Chapter 12, after the catastrophe takes place — a catastrophe that many will go on to believe was part of an alien invasion — we get an even better look at the theatre, and the bodies of those who died on its doorstep; and if you look closely, you can even see pictures of Gort and Klaatu on the wall:

And what is the significance of The Day the Earth Stood Still to Watchmen? Well, for starters, both stories feature a character who wants to bring an end to war on Earth, and who uses the threat of an alien attack to try to get us to stop fighting each other. But where Klaatu only threatens to do us harm, thus giving us time to discover and reveal our better natures, Ozymandius actually launches an attack, thus tricking the governments of the world into thinking that they must prepare for an even bigger battle down the road against an even deadlier common enemy.

The interesting question here is whether Ozymandius is meant to be the polar opposite of Klaatu, or Klaatu’s darker self.

Canadian box-office stats — September 7

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.

Death Race — CDN $3,920,000 — N.AM $29,909,125 — 13.1%
Mamma Mia! — CDN $17,260,000 — N.AM $136,440,050 — 12.7%

Tropic Thunder — CDN $10,160,000 — N.AM $96,541,629 — 10.5%
Bangkok Dangerous — CDN $802,454 — N.AM $7,783,266 — 10.3%
The House Bunny — CDN $3,730,000 — N.AM $36,611,667 — 10.2%
Pineapple Express — CDN $8,290,000 — N.AM $84,013,748 — 9.9%
The Dark Knight — CDN $48,100,000 — N.AM $511,997,658 — 9.4%

Babylon A.D. — CDN $1,500,000 — N.AM $17,378,536 — 8.6%
Disaster Movie — CDN $659,630 — N.AM $10,602,140 — 6.2%
Traitor — CDN $801,427 — N.AM $17,265,872 — 4.6%

The Black Hole — third time’s the charm?


Jim Hill says Disney is thinking of re-making The Black Hole (1979) — but first, to test the waters, they’re thinking of releasing a brand new graphic-novel adaptation of the original film.

Hill goes on to suggest that what comic-book fans might really want is not a new graphic novel, but a collection of the Sunday strips that were drawn back then by comic-book legend Jack Kirby, whose serialization of The Black Hole was apparently the only movie adaptation of his career:

I had never heard of Kirby’s adaptation before, but I must say that the two panels above look better than just about anything in the magazine-sized Golden comic book that I have had for nearly 30 years, now. Here is how it depicts the scene depicted above:

So, if Disney commissions yet another comic-book adaptation of this film, will the third time be the charm, then?

And does this film really have that big of a cult following?

Barry Lyndon revisited.


Barry Lyndon (1975; my comments) is easily one of Stanley Kubrick‘s most under-rated films — it was even excluded from that recent DVD boxed set which included all of Kubrick’s other films from the past four decades — so it’s always nice to come across a new appreciation of the film, especially one that is written by someone who has just seen it for the first time. The most recent example that I’ve come across is this post by J. Robert Parks, who compares the stunning artistry of Kubrick’s film with the apparently more conventional techniques used by the newest version of Brideshead Revisited. Definitely worth reading.

Will Smith’s Last Pharaoh gets a new writer.


Six months ago, I mentioned that Will Smith was hoping to star in a movie about Taharqa, one of the last Pharaohs of the 25th Dynasty, which is also known as the Nubian Dynasty because its members were of Ethiopian descent and were not quite native Egyptians. (Other foreigners who ruled as Pharaohs at one point or another include the apparently Semitic Hyksos, of the 15th Dynasty, and the Greeks who ruled Egypt for three centuries, from the conquest of Alexander to the death of Cleopatra.)

Tonight, Variety reports that a new writer has been hired to do the screenplay, and it is none other than Randall Wallace, who is best known for his work on historical battle epics like Braveheart (1995; my comments) and Pearl Harbor (2001; my review).

Wallace is an open Christian, and Taharqa seems to make a cameo appearance in the Bible, during the Assyrian king Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah in 701 BC — so a Bible-movie buff like me would obviously hope for a little biblical action here. But alas, it is probably not to be. Variety says the film, which is called The Last Pharaoh, will focus instead on Taharqa’s battles with Sennacherib’s son, Esarhaddon, which began in 677 BC.

Ah well. I’ll be happy just to see Assyrian armies on the big screen. It could make for a nice change of pace from all the Greeks and Romans who tend to dominate the ancient-epic genre.