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.

Festivals coming to Vancouver this month.

The Vancouver International Film Festival, which takes place this year between September 25 and October 10, posted its online film guide today, and suffice it to say that I have only begun to figure out which films I will make a point of seeing and when. (Matters are complicated by the fact that I do not yet know which films I will be able to see before the festival begins.)

However, since I am a Bible-movie buff, I will note that this year’s line-up includes not only Albert Serra’s El cant dels ocells, AKA Birdsong — which is based on the journey of the Three Wise Men — but it also features the world premiere of Waiting for Sancho, a documentary on the making of Serra’s film produced by Mark Peranson, a VIFF programmer who also happens to play Joseph in Serra’s film.

Before the big film festival comes to town, there is at least one small film festival that sounds like it might be worth checking out, too. The SPARK Animation Festival takes place September 10-14 and will feature, among other things, the western Canadian premiere of Leslie Iwerks’s documentary The Pixar Story (2007).

Newsbites: The docs and biopics edition!

Time for some news about movies based in reality, sort of.

1. Real-life spouses Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly will play Charles Darwin and his wife Emma in Creation, a film based on Randal Keynes’ book Annie’s Box. (Keynes is the great-great-grandson of the Darwins, and he is also the father of Skandar, who plays Edmund in the Narnia movies.) The film will portray Charles as “a man torn between his love for his deeply religious wife and his own growing belief in a world where God has no place.” If memory serves, Bettany previously played a 19th-century naturalist who said it was possible to believe in both God and evolution, in Peter Weir’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003), so it will be interesting to compare the two roles. — Hollywood Reporter

2. Man on Wire, a documentary about Philippe Petit’s illegal high-wire walk between the World Trade Centre’s twin towers in August 1974, is an excellent film on its own. But starting today, those who see it in New York and Los Angeles may be in for a special treat, as “select screenings” will be followed by The Man Who Walked Between the Towers (2005), an animated short about Petit’s famous feat that is narrated by Jake Gyllenhaal and based on Mordicai Gerstein’s children’s book. Let us hope that the short will be attached to screenings in other cities, too — or, failing that, that it will be included as a bonus feature on the Man on Wire DVD. — Variety

3. One of my favorite interviews, during my student newspaper days, was the one I did with Leon Gast just three days before he won his Oscar for When We Were Kings (1996); it’s on page 11 of this PDF file. That film concerned the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, i.e. the famous boxing match that took place between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire in 1974. But before the fighting, there was a massive, three-day concert that Gast’s film could only briefly allude to. Now, however, editor Jeffrey Levy-Hinte has taken Gast’s remaining footage and crafted a documentary devoted to the concert itself, and the resulting film, called Soul Power, premiered last night at the Toronto International Film Festival. — Wall Street Journal

4. Nicholas Meyer — best known for writing and/or directing three of the better Star Trek films, and for scripting a couple of Philip Roth adaptations — is now working on a screenplay about George Washington. — Hollywood Reporter

5. Michael Moore‘s self-tribute documentary Captain Mike Across America got pretty bad reviews when it premiered in Toronto last year. That might explain why Moore has decided to bypass theatres altogether and release the film, for free and under an entirely different name, over the internet later this month. Now known as Slacker Uprising, the film will be available to Americans and Canadians here for three weeks, beginning September 23, and then it will be released on DVD. — Associated Press

BC Christian News — September 2008

The newest issue of BC Christian News is now online, and with it, my film column, which looks at the documentary Man on Wire and includes brief notes on Billy: The Early Years, W, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Kings.

Newsbites: The Nicolas Cage edition!

Remember how I said Bangkok Dangerous was not going to be screened for the media? Well, in a sense, it was, but in a sense, it wasn’t.

I and other critics were eventually invited to a promotional screening last night, which was nice, but as I have mentioned here before, screenings that take place the night before the release date “don’t count” as proper press screenings, because they take place too late for the newspaper critics to file their reviews in time for the opening day’s papers.

This screening was even more unusual, though, because the studio didn’t just passively make it difficult to review the film on opening day; they actually told us not to review the film on opening day, telling us that anyone who saw the film last night would have to refrain from posting a review of it until Saturday. Well, obviously, this didn’t make any sense, since any schlub could buy a ticket to a matinee screening on Friday and write about the movie on their blog or whatever immediately afterwards … so at the last minute, the studio amended its rule and told us that we could post our thoughts on the film after 3pm today.

And so, here we are. And, uh, I don’t have all that many thoughts about the film, really.

I seem to recall that, when I attended the Nicolas Cage press conference at the National Treasure: Book of Secrets junket nine months ago, he told us that friends of his had seen Bangkok Dangerous and thought it might be his best film since The Weather Man (2005). I thought that statement was odd for a number of reasons, and now that I’ve seen the film, it seems odder still.

Many critics have complained that this film harks back to the bleak, dreary, morally confused genre pics that Cage made a decade ago or so — films like 8MM (1999), for example — and I would have to agree. Others have said that it continues Cage’s recent losing streak, in terms of the quality of the projects he has picked, and I would sort of agree there, too, though the National Treasure movies have obviously been very successful at the box office, at least, and I tend to think they’re good dumb fun, as well. I would also add that, with one possible exception, nothing in Bangkok Dangerous inspired the sort of incredulous laughter that greeted Cage’s ridiculous remake of The Wicker Man (2006).

So, the new film isn’t a complete wash-out. I did like a few of the gun-battle shots, and there are a few nice funny bits besides — even if most of them involve a romance which, when it works, feels like it belongs in an entirely different movie, and, when it doesn’t work, threatens, for just a moment, to make the movie melodramatic to the point of being simply laughable.

That aside, though, taken as a whole, the movie is kind of dull.

In the meantime, while Cage has been promoting this film, he has been talking about several other projects, too. Here’s the rundown:

1. There will almost certainly be a third National Treasure, but the question now is what the subject should be. At the junket I attended last year, Cage said he wanted to go global and make the next movie about an “international treasure”, but now he says, “There’s been talk about doing it in the South, maybe in New Orleans.” — MTV Movies Blog

2. Werner Herzog’s sequel to Bad Lieutenant (1992), which will star Cage in the role created by his National Treasure co-star Harvey Keitel, will not be driven by the “Judeo-Christian programming” of the original film, says Cage. “This one is much more existential.” Oh, and this film is reportedly taking place in New Orleans, too. — MTV Movies Blog

3. The sequel to Bad Lieutenant might tone the religion down, but if there is a sequel to Ghost Rider (2007), it will probably pump the religious content up. “It looks like it will take place in Europe and the character will work with the [Catholic] Church,” says Cage, who has been discussing the sequel with the studio. “It hasn’t progressed to [who the next villain will be] yet to be able to say, but I do know it will be shot in Europe and there will be some sort of connection working with different religious figures.” — MTV Splash Page,