The Golden Compass — the article’s up!

My article on the controversy over The Golden Compass and the His Dark Materials trilogy as a whole is now up at Christianity Today. The magazine has a fairly long lead time — at least compared to the websites and newspapers that I write for! — so this article does not take some of the more recent developments into account. I also “interviewed” Philip Pullman by e-mail for this story, but only a handful of quotes ended up in the article, so I might post some “deleted quotes” here in the next few days.

Newsbites: Bale! Disciple! Gods! Life! Mimzy!

Time for a few more little blurbs.

1. has a wonderfully insane idea. If Christian Bale — who is currently one of six actors playing Bob Dylan in I’m Not There — really does play John Connor in the next Terminator movie, then perhaps the studio could cast all the other actors who have played John Connor and hire I’m Not There director Todd Haynes to oversee the whole thing. It’ll never happen, but still.

2. German director Robert Sigl is developing The 13th Disciple, a “Horror/Adventure” film about archaeologists in India who discover that Jesus had an “evil twin brother” who is now alive again, reincarnated as the head of a religious sect. Jesus himself will reportedly be “only in the background” of the story, and will not be an active character. Matt Page at the Bible Films Blog has rounded up several news sites and official movie sites on the subject.

3. The Hollywood Reporter says Ben Stiller is developing a TV pilot called Gods Behaving Badly, described as:

. . . a contemporary comedic tale set in London, where the gods of ancient Greece have been living together in a house since the 1660s. They still are running the world, fighting with one another, but they are dangerously bored and living in much reduced circumstances. Apollo has turned a Goldman Sachs market trader into a tree after she refused casual sex with him. Aphrodite runs a telephone sex service.

” ‘Gods Behaving Badly’ has a rare comedic collision of the mythic, the mundane and the emotionally real,” Red Hour partner Stuart Cornfeld said. “We are very excited about moving ahead with this.”

I like the Greco-Roman myths, so this could be kind of fun, but I don’t know that I trust Stiller or his company to milk the best humour out of this concept. For one thing, they’d better not make all the jokes about sex. That’s too easy, too obvious. It’s one thing for the characters to be bored and uninspired, but the writers should be a little more clever than that.

4. I love contrarian readings of popular films — such as Jonathan V. Last‘s argument that the Empire, rather than the Rebellion, was ultimately on the side of good in the the Star Wars movies — so I have to link to right-wing New York Post columnist Kyle Smith‘s recent analysis of It’s a Wonderful Life (1946):

While watching the new colorization of “It’s a Wonderful Life” on DVD – this time they got it right; no longer do you get the feeling you’re watching a black-and-white film through stained glass – I thought: you know who would love this? Why, that visionary American innovator Henry F. Potter.

That’s right, Mr. Potter – the unsung hero of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the canny businessman who tried (and, alas, failed) to turn boring, repressed Bedford Falls – a town full of drunks, child beaters, vandals and racial and sexual harassers – into an exciting new destination nightspot called Pottersville. . . .

5. Jeffrey Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere notes that New Line Cinema’s “For Your Consideration” site — the site that invites members of the Academy to consider their films for the Oscars — is promoting The Golden Compass, Hairspray and… The Last Mimzy? That’s the lame children’s fantasy which happened to be the first film directed by the head of the studio in 17 years. In other words, it’s a true vanity project — and now, more so than ever.

Indiana Jones and the bizarre cameo rumour

You know those rumours about how Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull will deal with aliens and stuff? They just got a little weirder. If what the guy at MovieWeb says is true, then it looks like George Lucas sure wasn’t kidding when he said last year that this new film might be “a little too ‘connected’“.

Canadian box-office stats — November 25

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.

American Gangster — CDN $10,290,000 — N.AM $115,774,000 — 8.9%
Bee Movie — CDN $9,240,000 — N.AM $112,069,000 — 8.2%
Beowulf — CDN $4,470,000 — N.AM $56,361,000 — 7.9%
No Country for Old Men — CDN $1,250,000 — N.AM $16,640,000 — 7.5%
Hitman — CDN $1,550,000 — N.AM $21,000,000 — 7.4%
Fred Claus — CDN $3,410,000 — N.AM $53,070,000 — 6.4%
The Mist — CDN $739,610 — N.AM $13,012,000 — 5.7%
Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium — CDN $1,100,000 — N.AM $22,287,000 — 4.9%
Enchanted — CDN $2,370,000 — N.AM $50,048,000 — 4.7%
August Rush — CDN $628,529 — N.AM $13,330,000 — 4.7%

A couple of discrepancies: No Country for Old Men was #8 on the Canadian chart (it was #11 in North America as a whole), while This Christmas was #2 on the North American chart.

Hmmm, why did they pick these four faces?

I just saw this ad for an upcoming high-def James Bond marathon over at Facebook, and two things leapt out at me. One, there are 21 films in the “official” series produced by the Broccoli family, but this marathon will apparently feature only 19 of them — which two films were left out, and why? Two, there are 6 actors who have played Bond in these films, but only 4 of them are depicted in the art duplicated here — and while it’s no surprise that one-shot George Lazenby is missing, I am struck by the fact that Timothy Dalton, who made only two films, one of which didn’t do so well in North America, is included here, whereas Pierce Brosnan, whose four films outgrossed everybody else’s until Daniel Craig came along, has been left out of the picture. Is a re-evaluation of these actors and their respective places in the franchise in the works?

No Country for Old Men — a few thoughts

Warning: There be spoilers here.

There is an interesting tension in No Country for Old Men, adapted by the Coen brothers from the novel by Cormac McCarthy, between absurdism and fatalism. Fatalism tells us our lives are meaningless because nothing can change what’s going to happen to us, including the fact that we will die. Absurdism tells us our lives are meaningless because the things that happen to us are random and unpredictable, and ultimately there is no one who can take the raw data of our lives and hold it together in a narrative that will make any meaningful sense. So the film tells us that our lives are meaningless, and it mourns this fact. But the ways in which it tells us that our lives are meaningless pull in opposite directions — which might mean that they are working together to make a doubly-effective point about the meaninglessness of our lives, or it might mean that they are working against each other, each theme diluting the other’s full impact. I haven’t quite decided yet.

At any rate, no scene sums this tension up better than the bit near the end, where Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) drives a car and approaches an intersection; you just know that another car is going to ignore the light and run right into the intersection and hit Chigurh’s car, and that Chigurh, who has seemed so “in control” all this time, is suddenly going to lose control in the most unexpected of ways. But the very fact that you just know it means that, within the dramatic structure of the film, it isn’t all that unexpected. The characters might experience this moment as absurdity, but the film is so masterfully made — so ably told as a narrative that makes a meaningful point — that we experience this moment as fatalism, instead.

Side note: I wonder about the decision to keep the deaths of some of the most sympathetic characters (major or minor) offscreen. If the point of the film is the great gaping void that awaits us all — the tragic meaninglessness of a world in which God either doesn’t exist or doesn’t care, and everything we ever were or knew simply ceases to be — then the loss of any person’s life is indeed an enormous loss, and I find myself thinking back to David Cronenberg’s remark that the blood and gore in Eastern Promises are put there precisely because he is an atheist and he believes there is no afterlife awaiting these people and he wants to drive home how bad, how evil, how wrong it is to end a life. The Coens, on the other hand, keep the deaths of some of the most innocent characters completely offscreen, and I can’t decide whether this choice represents a reluctance to underscore their theme as strongly as they could have, or whether it itself makes a nihilistic point, by not even waiting for these characters to die before it drops them from the story. (Reluctance, or haste, for lack of a better word?) So that’s another thing I haven’t quite decided yet.

For a couple of alternate takes on the offscreen deaths, Brett McCracken at The Search compares the film’s treatment of violence — beginning with graphic onscreen deaths and ending with some of the most important deaths taking place offscreen — to “Paul Schrader’s discussion of abundant-to-sparse stylistic trajectories in his concept of transcendental cinema”, while Matt Zoller Seitz at The House Next Door writes: “The Coens’ shift from up-close, graphic violence to obscured or elliptical violence cements the sense that we’ve been privy to a mysterious but fundamental change in the universe. We see bloodied flesh close-up when it’s a new phenomenon; when it ceases to be noteworthy, the filmmakers stop showing it.”

A couple more interesting links: Glenn Kenny at ponders the significance of the film’s final half-hour, and K. Bowen at Anti-dis-arts-and-entertainmentism wonders whether one of the film’s casting decisions might be a subtle wink-and-nod to a real-life crime.

NOV 28 UPDATE: Matthew Leicht has sent yet another interpretation of the increasingly offscreen violence to Jeffrey Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere: “Also at that point, the violence begins to subside (other than the driver of the truck that Moss gets into). We see Carson get shot from the reverse angle; Moss is killed off-screen (and we barely see the body), Carla Jean is killed and we don’t even know how. Hell, Anton may even succumb to his injuries. it becomes clearer and clearer that the dying is less significant, and it’s the living that matters.”

DEC 16 UPDATE: The car crash scene stands out for Andrew Potter at Maclean’s magazine, too, and definitely not in a good way.