The Master and Margarita — again!

Despite my interest in Jesus-themed movies, I regret to say that I know very little about The Master and Margarita beyond the fact that there have been several films and TV shows based on a novel of that name which straddles the modern and biblical worlds; the IMDb and Wikipedia list at least seven adaptations produced between 1972 and 2005, in countries such as Russia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Italy, the United Kingdom and Poland.

(One of the Polish versions, incidentally, was directed by Andrzej Wajda, who has directed many highly-regarded films, and whose most recent effort, Katyn, is currently nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Three of his earlier films were nominated for that award, too. But I digress…)

At any rate, it looks like the Americans are going to have a go at this story, now. The Hollywood Reporter reports:

Satan comes to Earth in Mikhail Bulgakov‘s novel “The Master and Margarita,” and he will return to the big screen in the adaptation from Stone Village Pictures and producer Scott Steindorff.

The Los Angeles-based production company has optioned the late Russian writer’s once-banned book, an inspiration for Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” in a low- to mid-six figure against a low-seven figure deal.

SVP president Steindorff will produce the film. SVP partners Chris Law, Danny Greenspun, Robin Greenspun and execs Scott Lastati and Dylan Russell will executive produce alongside Michael Lang. It’s one of several SVP adaptations, including “Love in the Time of Cholera” and the upcoming “True Believer.”

“Master and Margarita” begins in pre-WWII Moscow, where the devil appears as a mysterious man who insinuates himself into a literary crowd. Amid a series of deaths and disappearances, the devil brings together the title characters, a despairing novelist and his devoted but married lover. The story shifts to the setting of the master’s rejected novel, Jerusalem in the time of Pontius Pilate, and then to a supernatural world where Satanic forces have taken over Margarita’s life. . . .

Bulgakov finished the book shortly before his death in 1940, but in part because of its allusions to Stalin’s regime, it was banned until a two-part, censored version was published in 1966 and 1967. SVP now is hunting for a writer to adapt it from the uncensored manuscript.

The Reporter also notes that Roman Polanski was set to make his own adaptation of this story back in the late 1980s, until the studio pulled the plug for budgetary reasons. Polanski, of course, is a native Pole with an active interest in the supernatural (Rosemary’s Baby, 1968; The Ninth Gate, 1999), and he has even acted in a couple of Wajda films — so it may be a shame we’ll never get to see what sort of spin he would have given this story, and how his film would have compared to the others, especially the Polish ones. (I say “may be” because, like I say, I have never read the book or seen any of the other film versions.)

Incidentally, the photo above comes from a Russian mini-series that aired in 2005, via the St. Petersburg Times.

Indian sex symbol to play Jesus’s celibate yogi

The Aquarian Gospel has a female lead. Reuters reports:

Bollywood actress Mallika Sherawat will play an ascetic who befriends Jesus of Nazareth in a U.S. film that revolves around a legend that he visited India.

Filmmaker Drew Heriot‘s “The Aquarian Gospel” is about Jesus’s life between the ages of 13 and 30, a period not documented in the Gospels when legend has it he traveled through India, Tibet and Persia.

Heriot said Sherawat had been the first choice to play the role of the ascetic in the $15-million film, set for release in 2009. . . .

Sherawat created a stir in her Bollywood debut with 17 kissing scenes in “Khwahish.” She also played the role of an Indian princess in the Jackie Chan film “The Myth.”

The actress said it would be a challenge to bring to life her character as a female yogi in “The Aquarian Gospel.”

“I find that in most mythological and spiritual film stories, women seem to be lacking any true wisdom or a sense of humor,” Sherawat said in a statement released by her publicist.

“I look forward to bringing both of those qualities to this character.”

The Times of India has a little more detail, including the name of Sherawat’s character:

Heriot’s film chronicles Jesus’ journey from Israel as a young boy, through India, Tibet, Persia, Greece and Egypt.

In the movie, he encounters people of all creeds and meets sages from different faiths. Sherawat will play Saraswati, one of Yeshua’s (Jesus) loyal friends whom he bonds with while he travels through India.

The actress, who has broken taboos in the Indian film industry with bold movies such as Khwaish and Murder , feels The Aquarian Gospel also breaks a different kind of taboo by discussing the lost years of Jesus. Saraswati is a celibate yogini , a nice contrast for an actress known as Bollywood’s Bardot.

No word yet on who will be playing Jesus himself.

Canadian box-office stats — February 17

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.

Rambo — CDN $4,550,000 — N.AM $40,110,000 — 11.3%
27 Dresses — CDN $7,190,000 — N.AM $69,937,000 — 10.3%
Juno — CDN $11,510,000 — N.AM $124,090,000 — 9.3%
Step Up 2: The Streets — CDN $2,390,000 — N.AM $26,267,000 — 9.1%
Definitely, Maybe — CDN $1,120,000 — N.AM $12,872,000 — 8.7%

The Bucket List — CDN $6,890,000 — N.AM $81,085,000 — 8.5%
Fool’s Gold — CDN $3,350,000 — N.AM $42,035,000 — 7.9%
The Spiderwick Chronicles — CDN $1,670,000 — N.AM $21,429,000 — 7.8%
Jumper — CDN $2,550,000 — N.AM $33,850,000 — 7.5%
There Will Be Blood — CDN $2,100,000 — N.AM $31,000,000 — 6.8%

A couple of discrepancies: Rambo and There Will Be Blood were #9 and #10 on the Canadian chart, respectively (they were #13 and #12 in North America as a whole), while Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins and Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour were #6 and #9 on the North American chart, respectively (the former film was nowhere in the Canadian Top 20, and the latter film was #17 in Canada).

Indiana Jones — a real American hero?

Jeffrey Wells raised a point yesterday that had sort of occurred to me while watching the new trailer for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull the day before that. He notes that the international version of the trailer is missing the American flag — and I have to admit that, while watching the trailer two days ago, I found myself wondering if any of the previous Indiana Jones movies had been so implicitly patriotic.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) was, if anything, skeptical of nationalist sentiments. Although the film takes place in the 1930s, at a time when the United States was officially staying out of European affairs, Indiana Jones is sent overseas to retrieve the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis can get it — and the film portrays the government bureaucrats who send him as secretive, deceptive and basically untrustworthy. Indy goes after the Ark because he’s interested in it for its own sake, not because he believes it will make a difference to national security or anything like that — and when he does come to believe in the Ark’s power, he resents the way the government is handling it.

Then there is the scene in which Marion, trapped in a basket and carried off by the Nazis’ Egyptian henchmen, yells, “You can’t do this to me, I’m an American!” — a line that is played for laughs more than anything else — and while the line, in context, might mean nothing more than “I’m not an Egyptian”, it also serves as a nicely subtle dig at American exceptionalism: the fact that someone comes from the United States does not mean that bad people cannot do bad things to that person.

The only other specific reference in that film that occurs to me right now is Toht’s line to Marion, when he barges in on her and Belloq: “You Americans, you’re all the same. Always overdressing for the wrong occasions.” Of course, the dress Marion is wearing at that point happens to be a present from the evil Frenchman, so the line is basically one bad guy’s dig at another bad guy’s taste in fashion, with a hapless American caught in the verbal crossfire — so make of that line whatever you will.

I don’t know the sequels as well as Raiders, but I don’t think either of them got even that specific.

The Temple of Doom (1984) takes place entirely in Asia, with a prologue in Shanghai and a main narrative set in India, back when the British Empire was still dominant there. So unless I’m forgetting something, American concerns are off that film’s radar entirely.

And then there is The Last Crusade (1989), which follows a template similar to that of Raiders, but with some notable minor differences. Once again, Indy battles Nazis in the Middle East — with some extra intrigue set in Europe — but if memory serves, he is sent this time not by the government but by a private philanthropist, Walter Donovan, and he is once again motivated not by national-security issues but, in this case, by a personal concern for his father. Through it all, America remains the place where the hero goes to hide behind his mild-mannered Clark Kent facade, while all the interesting superheroic stuff takes place overseas. And if Donovan does have any government connections — I can’t remember — then it is worth noting that he turns out to be the main villain of the piece. Once again, a member of the nation’s elite turns out to be untrustworthy.

Things could be very different in the new movie. For one thing, it seems at least two major action sequences will take place on American soil: first, there will be a motorcycle chase in or near the university where Dr. Jones works; and second, the trailer gives us a glimpse of a major action sequence set in a warehouse which may or may not be Area 51 and may or may not be the same place where the Ark of the Covenant was stored at the end of Raiders.

What’s more, the villains this time are Communists, and the film takes place in 1957, when the United States was very much engaged in a “cold war” with the Soviets. And based on the reports that came out eight months ago, it seems the sequence set at the university will also include an anti-Communist rally.

So it makes sense that this newest film would be more “American” than the three films which came before it. But that hopefully doesn’t mean it will lose its subversive edge. Indeed, the soldiers Indy beats up in the trailer are clearly wearing American uniforms; then again, they could be Soviets in disguise.

Is that John Hurt in the Crystal Skull trailer?

Two months ago, John Hurt refused to divulge who he plays in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull — many fans think he might be playing Abner Ravenwood, father of Indy’s erstwhile girlfriend Marion — but he did say this:

Well, I’m all in the second half. I’m one of what I called the Famous Five. . . . It was Karen [Allen], me, Harrison [Ford], Shia [LaBeouf], and Ray Winstone, who is one of the Famous Five but dodgy.

So, do we get any glimpses of this famous fivesome in the trailer that came out two days ago? Why yes, I believe we do — but the character who is almost certainly being played by John Hurt is always kept in the distance or at the very edge of the frame. And we never get anything resembling a good look at his face.

Still, all that said, I think it is safe to say that Hurt’s character has long-ish hair, is wearing a poncho, and needs to be helped by Indiana Jones as they all run down the steps outside the temple.

Click on the images below to see bigger versions of them:

APR 30 UPDATE: Bit of a delayed reaction here, but I finally got around to capturing the shot that someone mentioned in the comments; we get an even better look at Hurt in the new trailer:

MAY 1 UPDATE: Official Pix is now selling these two photos:

MAY 3 UPDATE: The new trailer is now up at the official website, in a high-def version that gives us this much better image:

MAY 13 UPDATE: John Hurt is interviewed in a bonus feature on the new “special edition” of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) — and the identity of his character is apparently revealed there.

Indy 4 trailer — note the Roswell reference!

The trailer for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull went online today — and it looks like the rumours about this film mentioning not only aliens in general, but the Roswell UFO incident in particular, are absolutely true.
Click here if the video file above doesn’t play properly.