Newsbites: Angels! Nottingham! Denzel! Steyn!

Time for another batch of quick news blurbs.

1. The production of Angels & Demons may have been put on hold for now, but reportedly Naomi Watts has signed on to play Tom Hanks’s Italian love interest. — New York Post

2. While promoting American Gangster in England, Russell Crowe let spill a few more details regarding Nottingham, the revisionist Robin Hood movie he plans to make next year with director Ridley Scott:

Will the sheriff of Nottingham be more than a pantomime villain this time around?
Russell Crowe:
[Smiles] I’m a big Robin Hood fan and have been since I was a little kid. But if you go back into the history of the mythology, you get back to the ballads of Robin the Beheader, who would chop off your head and your hands and take all your money and not give any of it to anybody. So we’ll have a look at that. We’ll have a look at how the mythology morphed over time, who was in power and what was the current church we should all attend – and in this country that changed quite regularly! And then we’ll look at the Hollywood mythology ad how much of that is embedded in the psyche of people when they think of Robin Hood. I tell you this – Richard the Lionheart won’t be bounding up in the last scene and saving the day [chuckles]. I mean the bloke only spoke French and only spent six months of his 10-year reign in England. And besides, Richard Harris is dead.

Harris played Richard the Lionheart in Robin and Marian (1976), which starred Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn in the title roles; he also co-starred with Crowe in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000; my review). — IndieLondon

3. While promoting American Gangster and The Great Debaters in the United States, Denzel Washington talked to at least one journalist about the importance of faith and family in his life. Among his remarks: “I read the Bible every day. I’m in my second pass-through now, in the Book of John. My pastor told me to start with the New Testament, so I did, maybe two years ago. Worked my way through it, then through the Old Testament. Now I’m back in the New Testament. It’s better the second time around.” — Reader’s Digest

4. Mark Steyn argues that current Hollywood films, from the seemingly endless wave of dreary, preachy anti-war flicks to the “amoral fetishization of violence” in the recent remake of 3:10 to Yuma, have lost any sense of heroism, and have in effect declared war on “the very art of storytelling” itself. — Maclean’s

5. Lest people take the movie Awake too seriously — that’s the one in which a man on an operating table experiences anesthetic awareness and is unable to move, despite being conscious of the operation that is being performed on him — doctors in Canada would like the public to know that such experiences are very, very rare and there’s no need to panic if you’re about to have surgery. — Globe and Mail

6. Lest people take the movie Lust, Caution too seriously — that’s the one with the sex scenes that earned an NC-17 rating — doctors in China are warning the public that “Highly difficult sexual positions can cause unnecessary harm to both the male and female body and, hence, people should not be imitating what they see on the big screen.” In other words, the actors you see are professionals, do not try this at home, etc., etc. — London Times

7. Dennis Quaid’s newborn twins, Thomas and Zoe, are in the hospital following an overdose of blood thinner. My thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family, and I have to say that this is giving me a weird case of deja vu, because I interviewed Quaid two years ago, and at the time, my wife — who was 4.5 months pregnant at the time — had been admitted to a hospital only a few days before, because the doctors feared that she might lose our twins, Thomas and Elizabeth. Fortunately, our little guys pulled through; hopefully Quaid’s will, too. — Associated Press

Dutch Christians boot Donald Duck off the Ark

My friend Christian Hamaker, knowing that I am a fan of both Disney cartoons and Bible movies, pointed me to this item that went up today at one of the Reuters blogs:

Donald Duck has been expelled from Noah’s Ark.

To be more precise, a Donald Duck film clip has been removed from a replica of Noah’s Ark in the Netherlands. That came after a local church protested that the film being shown to children visiting the ark strayed too far from the Bible story. . . .

“We must always try to stay as close as we can to the word of God,” a spokesman for the local church, a member of the Christian Reformed Congregations, told the public broadcaster NOS. “But that doesn’t happen in the way this film tells the story.” After a meeting with church leaders, the Ark staff decided to yank Donald for the rest of their stay. . . .

The film clip in question is the ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ sequence from Fantasia 2000 (1999), which I have mentioned here before. It portrays Donald Duck as Noah’s assistant, and Daisy Duck as his girlfriend. (Donald’s, that is, not Noah’s.) It’s certainly not as biblically literate as one or two other Disney cartoons I could mention, but it’s pretty harmless. Check it out for yourself:

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

Incidentally, it appears that this cartoon evolved from an earlier idea in which it was the dove, rather than Donald, who helped Noah herd the animals and so on. The following storyboard reel, called ‘Noah’s Dove’, was included as a bonus feature in the three-disc Fantasia boxed set that came out seven years ago:

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

Newsbites: Trek! Demons! Aquarian! Rowling!

And now for a few smaller items.

1. Ben Cross, who played the Jewish athlete Harold Abrahams in Chariots of Fire (1981), has been tapped to play Spock’s father Sarek in Star Trek XI. Mark Lenard, who played the character in three TV episodes and three movies, was 42 when the original series began, and less than 7 years older than Leonard Nimoy, who played his son; Cross turns 60 in a few weeks, and is thus 30 years older than Zachary Quinto, who is now playing the young Spock. Matters are complicated further, though, by the fact that Vulcans can live for two centuries or more; Sarek himself was 103 when Lenard first played him during the original series. —

2. Producer Brian Grazer wants Angels & Demons, the sequel or prequel to The Da Vinci Code (2006), to be “less reverential” than its predecessor. Well, that only makes sense, I guess, since the book did give me a good laugh or two. Then again, weren’t some audiences already tittering during The Da Vinci Code as it was? — New York Times

3. The Aquarian Gospel will not only take a peek at the so-called “missing years” of Jesus’ adolescence and early adulthood — it will also be “a fantasy action adventure account of Jesus’s life with the three wise men as his mentors”! And although “the producers say the film will feature a ‘young and beautiful’ princess, it is not clear whether Jesus is to have a love interest.” And it will be “shot using actors and computer animation like 300“. This has the makings of a really tacky camp classic. — Guardian, Bible Films Blog

4. Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling has given one of her most interesting — and most spiritually-inclined — interviews yet, to a Dutch newspaper. A translation is available at The Leaky Cauldron. It covers many bases, but the bits about her beliefs and upbringing are rather interesting. —

5. Shantaram is the latest film to have its plug pulled thanks to the writers’ strike. When I mentioned it here two years ago, it was going to be directed by Peter Weir; now, the thwarted director is Mira Nair. One constant, though, has been star Johnny Depp, who was attached to the film under both directors. Whether he will still be around when all the strikes are over, and whether the film will ever get made, who knows. — Variety

6. Big Fox strikes again! Seems they’re getting YouTube to yank reviews of their films that include fair-use clips from their trailers. Bad, bad Big Fox. — The Movie Blog

The Golden Compass — the reviews begin!

My goodness. The Golden Compass doesn’t come out for another two and a half weeks, and already the Daily Telegraph has a review up. A few excerpts:

But an early screening of The Golden Compass in Los Angeles reveals that the investors who put up the £90 million cost of the film can rest easy – though it lacks the impact or charm of The Chronicles of Narnia, the special effects are extraordinary and the film is sure to be a success with young audiences. . . .

Newcomer Dakota Blue Richards was chosen for the pivotal role of Lyra from 10,000 young actresses. She does her best to carry the human portion of the film, despite an unconvincing “cor blimey” accent, but it is the computer-generated animals and rodents which are the real stars – rarely has so much human talent been so overshadowed by digital effects. . . .

The Golden Compass was made by New Line Cinema, the studio that struck gold with its Lord of the Rings trilogy. It is doubtless hoping to attract the same fantasy-loving audience, and while adults may wince at the jumpy editing and stilted dialogue (“We’ll set it right – just let them try to stop us,” declares Lyra), younger audiences are likely to be enthralled at the wonders Lyra encounters on her epic journey through a metaphysical universe. . . .

Now that the Telegraph has broken whatever review embargo this film has, it probably won’t be long before the trades — i.e., Variety and the Hollywood Reporter — post their own two bits. For my part, there have been no announcements yet regarding any screenings in Vancouver, so I may have to wait a bit longer.

Reviews have also begun trickling in for Alexandre Desplat’s score, which comes out on CD in two weeks. Film Music: The Neglected Art is fairly impressed with it, while Ryan den Rooijen at has an interesting interview with Desplat himself.

Finally, has posted two brief scenes from the film, both of which center on Iorek Byrnison, the armoured bear voiced by Sir Ian McKellen.

He’s not the Messiah, he’s a former child actor.

Back in 1998, a child actor by the name of Joseph Cross appeared in three films that, to put it mildly, did nothing to make me a fan of his. He might very well have been a good kid to hang out with, but his performances in Desperate Measures, Jack Frost and M. Night Shyamalan’s Wide Awake were all designed to pull just a little too hard on the audience’s heartstrings, and I found them all off-putting to one degree or another.

In the near-decade since then, Cross has worked almost exclusively in TV. But two years ago he began to appear on the big screen again, with bit parts in films like Strangers with Candy (2005) and Flags of Our Fathers (2006), and a starring role in Running with Scissors (2006), where I thought he did pretty well. Not that I remember his performance vividly or anything; I just remember thinking he had grown into a decent actor.

And now he’s got a few more films on his roster. In my review of Wide Awake, which starred Cross as a kid who goes looking for God in all of the world’s religions, I suggested his name was “auspicious” for such a spiritually-themed movie, but that assessment may be doubly true for his next project. Reports Variety:

Joseph Cross, Heather Graham, Barbara Hershey and Tim Curry will star in the indie satire “Son of Mourning.” Yaniv Raz will direct from a screenplay he wrote.

Story, set amid an international climate crisis, centers on a dissatisfied ad copywriter (Cross) who returns home to a resort town in Florida to mediate his parents’ divorce. While there, he is mistaken for the Messiah and must decide whether to use his newfound celebrity to indulge his own selfish desires or to do some good in the world.

I can’t begin to imagine how such a character would be mistaken for the Messiah — and in his hometown, no less — but I’m curious to see what this film does with the concept.

Canadian box-office stats — November 18

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.

No Country for Old Men — CDN $564,074 — N.AM $4,907,572 — 11.5%
American Gangster — CDN $9,150,000 — N.AM $100,650,615 — 9.1%
Bee Movie — CDN $8,220,000 — N.AM $93,570,695 — 8.8%

Lions for Lambs — CDN $957,366 — N.AM $11,584,339 — 8.3%
Saw IV — CDN $4,790,000 — N.AM $61,766,718 — 7.8%
Beowulf — CDN $2,130,000 — N.AM $27,515,871 — 7.7%
Fred Claus — CDN $2,560,000 — N.AM $35,712,980 — 7.2%
Dan in Real Life — CDN $2,600,000 — N.AM $36,931,806 — 7.0%
Love in the Time of Cholera — CDN $132,776 — N.AM $1,924,860 — 6.9%
Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium — CDN $621,672 — N.AM $9,630,085 — 6.5%