Deathly Hallows — the article’s up!

My article on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is now up at CanadianChristianity.com.

Newsbites: Morris! Maher! Voyage! Escape!

Just a few more news items while they occur to me …

1. Errol Morris, who is currently making a documentary about Abu Ghraib, has a long and fascinating post at his blog on the role that photographic images have played in the public discussion about that prison — including some discrepancies as to who, exactly, was wearing the black hood in perhaps the most famous (or, rather, infamous) photo to come out of that scandal.

2. Bill Maher talked to Larry King last night about the upcoming documentary that he and Larry Charles are working on:

KING: This is the atheist view of religion.

MAHER: Well, yes. It’s certainly the doubter’s view. How much of an atheist a person is, even I, who I’m not a believer, say, look I can’t know. My main proposition is I don’t know, and, therefore, if some other human being tells me or anybody else what happens when you die, my answer to them I don’t know what happens when you die so how do you know? The answer is you don’t know, so to purport to present yourself as someone who can tell in such great detail, and the detail is amazing, isn’t it, about what happens when you die you?

We have to get away from a system of faith. Mitt Romney always says we need a person of faith in the White House. They all would say the same thing who are running for president. No, we need a person of doubt in the White House. Stop with the faith and start with the doubt.

KING: Where do you — give me what I will see. Do you talk to religious leaders?

MAHER: Oh, we talk to everybody. We went everywhere. We went to every place where there’s religion. We went to Vatican City and we went to Jerusalem and we went to Salt Lake City and, you know, I think I’ve insulted everybody, you know. It’s across the board, and we got amazing access. I mean, we were …

KING: Really?

MAHER: We were at the dome — we were standing right next to the rock, the Dome of the Rock where Mohammed flew up to heaven. We were — we were in that mosque, places they never filmed before. The Wailing Wall you’re not allowed to have cameras, inside the Vatican. We just found out that even though the sign says you’re not allowed to enter here there’s so many tourists with cameras and such and nowadays when you make a documentary like this it’s kind of guerrilla shooting. You don’t need a big crew. You just pretend you’re tourists and you’re shooting and then can you make a movie.

KING: Is this like Michael Moore in a sense?

MAHER: I would never compare myself to Michael more because, first of all, he’s a genius. He does what he does incredibly well, but I think …

KING: This isn’t that type?

MAHER: This is — You know, I hope that people laugh — we’ve shown 10 minutes. That’s all we have so far. We’re still cutting it together. But the 10 minutes that we’ve shown I’ve seen it shown to audiences twice. They laugh so hard because the topic of religion is just so inherently funny. I mean, politicians are funny because they promise things that they can never deliver on, and the gap between what they promise and what they deliver is great fodder for humor, as people from Mark Twain up into our own day have demonstrated but what religious people have promised, your own planet, come on, that’s a little beyond Social Security.

3. Variety reports that Roland Emmerich — director of Stargate (1994), Independence Day (1996), Godzilla (1998), The Patriot (2000) and The Day After Tomorrow (2004), among other films — will direct a remake of Richard Fleischer’s Fantastic Voyage (1966; my comments). Remember: the last remake this guy made was Godzilla. But I’m a sucker for movies that take place inside the human body, so I will probably buy this one on DVD anyway.

4. Jason Apuzzo at Libertas says the upcoming remake of Escape from New York (1981) cannot help but be “irrelevant”:

What made Escape From New York so interesting was it pushed to its logical extreme what was happening to New York at that time. Before Giuliani became mayor, crime was rampant, Times Square was a den of drug pushers and prostitutes, and the subways were filled with graffiti and beggars. Surveys at the time showed close to a majority of residents wanted to move out of NYC if they could. Escape From New York was the best of the NYC going to hell movies, for example The Warriors, that came out during the 70s/80s. Just to show how times have changed anybody remember the looting that occurred during the blackout of 1977. Compare that to the calm in the city after 9-11 or during the blackout of 2003. How can one make a remake when NYC is now one of the safest major cities in the world?

5. Two months ago, RKO Pictures announced it would co-produce remakes of four of its classic horror films — though only three titles were revealed at the time. Today, The Hollywood Reporter said the fourth film on the list is Isle of the Dead (1945) — which, like the other three films, was produced by Val Lewton:

In the 1945 film directed by Val Lewton, Karloff played a Greek military commander on an island where a plague breaks out. He orders the isle quarantined and as residents fall ill and die, some begin to suspect that a vampire-demon might be the cause of the deaths.

RKO plans to set the remake against the backdrop of a viral outbreak in Afghanistan.

6. The Fox Faith Movies website has not been updated in a while, so it still says their next theatrical release will be The Redemption of Sarah Cain. However, today, Christians in Cinema noted:

This weekend, the Lifetime Network is premiering “Saving Sarah Cain” on Sunday, August 19th, at 6 PM (Eastern & Pacific), 5 PM (Central), and 4 PM (Mountain). The latest film from partners Michael Landon, Jr., and Brian Bird (The Last Sin Eater) is based on Beverly Lewis’ novel “The Redemption of Sarah Cain.”

So the title has been changed? And the film is being shown for free on TV? Without being released to theatres first? Um, okay. And what will become of The Final Inquiry, which is the other film listed on the Fox Faith Movies website as “coming soon”?

The end is near … and yet still so far …

I have wanted to see Abel Gance’s La fin du monde (1931) — one of the first talking pictures made in France — ever since I first read about it while researching an article on apocalyptic movies for Christian History magazine back in 1998.

The film concerns a comet that is heading for Earth, and it reportedly has a fair bit of religious imagery, too. But it has never been available on video, to my knowledge — at least not in North America — despite its similarities to recent disaster-from-space movies like Deep Impact (1998) and Armageddon (1998; my review); it also seems to have inspired Guy Maddin‘s excellent retro-silent short film The Heart of the World (2000).

So imagine my joy when The ScreenGrab provided a link to this site which allows you to download a copy of Gance’s film here. There’s just one problem. The film is in French, and the subtitles are in Italian, and I don’t speak either of those languages.

Oh well, hopefully I can get by on the visuals, and on what little I remember of my high-school French. (Which isn’t much.)

UPDATE: Apparently Turner Classic Movies does sell a DVD of the 54-minute version of this film that was released in the United States. The version linked above is about 90 minutes.

Woody Allen and the Zionist conspiracy

Check out this take on the films of Woody Allen from Iranian TV:

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

(Hat tip to Faisal A. Qureshi at The ScreenGrab.)

Newsbites: Escape! Jurassic! Bond! Jack Black!

Time for a few more quick news items.

1. Variety reports that Len Wiseman, director of Live Free or Die Hard, will helm the remake of Escape from New York (1981).

2. Bloody-Disgusting.com says Jurassic Park IV — currently scheduled for a 2008 release, seven years after the previous film — will be “about the government who has trained dinosaurs to carry weapons and use them for battle purposes.” Seriously. But wait — shouldn’t the dinosaurs themselves be the weapon?

3. Is it just me, or are the James Bond movies getting a tad, I dunno, edgier? IGN.com says the next movie will include a scene set at a controversial horse race in Tuscany that is opposed by some animal-rights activists. This comes after the scene in Casino Royale (2006) that took place at a Body Worlds exhibit.

4. The Hollywood Reporter says Jack Black may star in The Lost Adventures of Stone Perlmutter Jr., “a faux documentary made from recently ‘discovered’ footage from 1979 chronicling the disastrous journey of a self-styled Indiana Jones-type adventurer who traveled the world trying to find the Yeti, El Dorado, the lost tomb of Jesus and other great mysteries.” Lost tomb of Jesus?

5. The Observer ran an article on the Nigerian film industry, AKA Nollywood, a couple weeks ago; among its revelations:

Although this is hotly contested, Nollywood saw its inauspicious beginnings in Living in Bondage: a tawdry, ineptly shot, earnestly didactic ‘home video’ that unleashed itself on the world in 1992. Many commentators believe Nollywood was born after the television industry stopped making popular dramas, which were infinitely better than the first several hundred Nollywood films.

Living in Bondage, filmed in Igbo, one of Nigeria’s languages, with English subtitles, had just the right mix of all the ingredients of a great soap opera: ropey dialogue, dodgy continuity, wooden acting and the sort of cinematography that went out of fashion when DW Griffith freaked out cinemagoers with the first closeup. Living in Bondage was a morality tale that resonated with many Nigerians, articulating and validating their fondest and darkest suspicions. It proved, for instance, that most of those ‘big men’ driving about in fancy cars with their trophy girlfriends, living in obscenely big mansions, eating lots of chicken and drinking nothing but foreign wine came into their wealth by drinking their wives’ blood – not before killing them in gory sacrifices to the devil, of course. Like Macbeth’s haunting by Banquo’s ghost, these evil men will always get their comeuppance: they will be driven insane by their wives’ apparitions and will find salvation only when they confess their sins to Jesus Christ and ask forgiveness.

Living in Bondage, now considered a classic, was the first Nollywood ‘blockbuster’. It sold over 500,000 copies in VHS tapes within weeks of its straight-to-video release. It marked the beginning of an industry that now produces over 1,000 movies a year. The average Nollywood production costs about $15,000, has a one- or two-week shoot and sells between 25,000 and 50,000 copies at about £1.50 a copy. Every so often a ‘blockbuster’ comes along that sells 500,000 copies. Production values have risen since Living in Bondage, but the single most popular theme is witchcraft and only a brave, or very foolish, director would tell a story where evil wasn’t punished and good rewarded. Fans would claim that the films deal with other pressing issues of contemporary African life: religion, family conflict and corruption, albeit routinely sensationalised.

6. The New York Times ran an interesting article by Peter Steinfels several days ago on the recently deceased Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni and their appeal to religious moviegoers:

So were believers, and again Christians foremost, drawn to these directors as powerful witnesses to what happened when God was declared dead? No doubt some religious defenders wanted to employ these bleak visions in a smug apologetic for faith, a greater temptation perhaps in the case of Antonioni, a post-Christian Italian, than of Bergman, an ex-Christian Swede. But for the most part, religious admirers of these directors treated them and their films not as object lessons for nonbelievers about the consequences of nonbelief but rather as revelations for believers about the true challenges of faith.

7. Matt Page at the Bible Films Blog sneak-peeks Magdalena: Released from Shame, the latest film to cannibalize footage from the Campus Crusade for Christ movie Jesus (1979).

Bergman’s entertaining “anti-entertainments”

Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly has a fun article up on the late Ingmar Bergman and what Gleiberman calls “the Four Stages of Watching Bergman” (“Youthful Befuddlement”, “Collegiate Awe”, “The Mary Wilkie Phase” and “Really Seeing Bergman”). He also takes special aim at that Jonathan Rosenbaum article:

But something else, too, conspired to make Bergman passé, and that was the rise of a new mystique in art film — a cult of austerity that persists to this day. In a staggeringly wrong-headed but quite revealing harangue that ran in The New York Times five days after Bergman’s death, the critic Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote, ”The hard fact is, Mr. Bergman isn’t being taught in film courses or debated by film buffs with the same intensity as Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, or Jean-Luc Godard. His works are seen less often in retrospectives and on DVD than those of Carl Dreyer and Robert Bresson — two master filmmakers widely scorned as boring and pretentious during Mr. Bergman’s heyday…. The same qualities that made Mr. Bergman’s films go down more easily than theirs — his fluid storytelling and deftness in handling actresses, comparable to the skills of a Hollywood professional like George Cukor — also make them feel less important today, because they have fewer secrets to impart.”

I’m not sure where Rosenbaum is getting his statistics. From everything I’ve Googled and read, Bergman’s films are more popular now, on DVD and in college classes, than those of Bresson, Dreyer, or Godard. (Hitchcock is another story, but then — he’s Hitchcock.) I also don’t know how anyone could think that a movie like Persona, with its naked acting and mind-warp structure, or Scenes From a Marriage, which so captures the music of relationships that I could it watch forever, is lacking in eternal secrets. What’s truly notable about Rosenbaum’s dismissal, however, is the battle line he’s really drawing: between Bergman the middlebrow, an art filmmaker who actually deigned to tell his stories fluidly (how vulgar!), and Rosenbaum’s heroes, such as the arid, oblique Bresson, with his dessicated zombie acting and general lack of forward motion.

Specious as it is, this argument represents what has become a vanguard attitude in the way that foreign films are now routinely celebrated — not for their expression, but for their benumbed lack of expression. You see it in the canonization of directors like Hou Hsiao-hsien and Abbas Kiarostami, the spiritual heirs to Bresson: filmmakers who fetishize their refusal to dramatize, who create art that is meandering and oblique, at times to the point of madness. For a while there in the ’50s, ’60s, and early ’70s, Ingmar Bergman’s films held sway as a ”classy” cultural phenomenon, but through all the symbols, the feverish close-ups, the otherworldly chess games, the torment and the tenderness, what you always felt was his deep desire to connect. That’s what made his art, and art film itself, matter.

And so the battle of the brows — high vs. middle — continues!


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