El Arca — the Argentinian Noah’s Ark

Matt Page at the Bible Films Blog has linked to my earlier post on animated Noah’s Ark movies that went into development in the last ten years — none of which have actually been produced yet — and Christopher Heard has posted a comment there noting that a full-length animated movie called El Arca, produced by the Patagonik Film Group, was released in Argentina just this past summer. Several video clips are available at YouTube, including the trailer below. I don’t speak the language, but based on the visuals — and the use of ‘I Will Survive‘ on the soundtrack — I’d say this movie’s sensibility is closer to DreamWorks than Disney:

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Tom Perrotta: “I knew that a foray into Christian sex was going to be funny.”

The National Post profiles Tom Perrotta, author of Election, Little Children and The Abstinence Teacher — all of which have been made into films or, in the case of that last title, are about to be:

The Abstinence Teacher is a funny two-hander about people on opposite sides of the culture war. Tim is a recently remarried soccer coach and screw-up who’s valiantly trying to correct his mistakes with the help of the Tabernacle, a church growing in power in Stonewood Heights, the fictitious all-American town where the novel is set. Ruth is a single mother and human sexuality teacher who has come under fire from the Tabernacle for teaching that “pleasure is good.” As usual, Perrotta’s protagonists have a hard time staying clothed. “Infidelities allow you to write about adult characters, even married characters, and catch them at a moment when they’re in flux,” he says, observing that Updike, Tolstoy and F. Scott Fitzgerald trod similar ground. “Who you fall in love with is both a very real thing and a metaphor for irrevocable life choices. ‘They got married and lived happily ever after’ is not a line you’ll likely see in my work.”

In 1993, Perrotta, then teaching at Harvard, wrote Election. No one would publish it, and he figured he’d wear chalk on his sleeves forever. “I was a composition teacher, struggling financially, and thought I’d go on to an academic career,” he says. He produced two more unheralded works of fiction, Bad Haircut, a fairly autobiographical collection of stories set in ’70s New Jersey, and The Wishbones, about a greying wedding singer who doesn’t want to settle down. It was a Hollywood producer who turned Perrotta into a successful commodity. After hearing him read at a college book store, she helped make Election, then unpublished, into the hot film of 1999.

“Total fluke,” he says of his book’s success on the big screen, which he followed up on by publishing Joe College the next year. “That experience, to say the least, changed things.”

Perrotta left Harvard, which allowed him to concentrate on Little Children, his 2004 novel about the secret lives of the denizens of an outwardly ordinary neighbourhood. “I thought I had a straightforward comic proposition — a sexy love story set on a playground, the least sexy place in the world,” he says. “The story, however, wound up telling me what it wanted to become.”

It became a tale of longing and violence told with a dry wit, and then, in 2006, it was transformed into an Oscar-nominated film starring Kate Winslet. But Perrotta isn’t quite ready to go Hollywood–not yet.

“Doing films is fun because it’s a collaborative process, but I couldn’t wait to work on this book,” he says of The Abstinence Teacher, which was inspired both by the Christian right’s influence on the 2004 re-election of George W. Bush and Perrotta’s years on the sidelines of the Belmont Freeze [his 10-year-old son's soccer team]. And though the novel presses a few hot buttons — gay marriage, abortion and religion in school — it remains rooted in Perrottaland. “I knew that a foray into Christian sex was going to be funny,” he says. “I seem to be able to find humour in these things.”

OCT 14 UPDATE: The New York Times profiles Perrotta, too:

TOM PERROTTA, perhaps best known for the pointed, celebrated film adaptations of his novels “Election” and “Little Children,” might seem out of place in a crowd of 300 or so young people gathered at an evangelical Christian church in the strip-mall suburbs of northern New Jersey for a rally on why they shouldn’t have sex before marriage. . . .

Early in “The Abstinence Teacher,” which Mr. Perrotta is adapting into a screenplay for the directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the husband-and-wife team behind “Little Miss Sunshine,” the author depicts a similar scene. In it a 28-year-old woman who “wasn’t just blond and pretty; she was hot” boasts of her virginity while lecturing the students on venereal disease and unwanted pregnancies. In a titillating finale, she promises them that when she finally has sex on her wedding night, “mark my words, people — it is going to be soooo good, oh my God, better than you can even imagine.” . . .

“The Abstinence Teacher” kicks off when Ruth Ramsey, a sex-education teacher and divorced mother of two young daughters, makes an offhand remark to her students about oral sex that draws the ire of local evangelical church members. Seeking to placate them, the school board invites a “virginity consultant” to supervise Ruth in class. The rest of the novel revolves around the budding relationship between Ruth and Tim Mason, a newly remarried soccer coach and recovering drug addict who has recently found God and wants to share him. . . .

Raised Roman Catholic (he has since lapsed), he was exposed to the self-abnegating form of religion that the evangelicals, he said, had turned on its head, particularly in regard to sex. “Catholic theology is that sex should be for procreation,” he said. “But this evangelical culture really embraces orgasms and pleasure. I was really interested in that strain of Christianity that didn’t want to fight American culture and that’s a vibrant, prosperous and actually kind of sexy culture.” . . .

While he was working on “Little Children” and attending his daughter’s soccer games, an idea popped into his head. “The soccer coach,” he wrote on an index card. “A man is upset to see the coach of his 8-year-old son’s team praying after the game. Why is he angry?”

That brief note eventually morphed into a pivotal early scene in “The Abstinence Teacher,” with the sexes changed. Ruth Ramsey attends a nail-biting soccer match in which her 10-year-old daughter, Maggie, makes a crucial play. In the jubilant aftermath, Tim Mason and another coach lead the girls in a prayer. Ruth goes ballistic.

But as in “Little Children,” in which he gave depth to a disaffected and uninspired young mother (as well as to the aging mother of a pedophile), here Mr. Perrotta takes a simplistic character who on first appearances is easily dismissible and makes him hard not to like. . . .

After the abstinence rally in Wayne, Jason Burtt, the national director of Silver Ring Thing, the organization that mounted the event, approached Mr. Perrotta in the lobby and started chatting with him about the novel. When Mr. Perrotta explained the plot, Mr. Burtt said he didn’t believe in coercing teachers. “It is so unconvincing when someone in school is forced to teach abstinence if they don’t believe it,” Mr. Burtt said.

As he prepared to drive back to his mother’s house, Mr. Perrotta said he was struck by how courteous and nonconfrontational Mr. Burtt had been. Over all, he said, evangelical Christian culture seems mostly polite, as well as extremely un-ironic. In response, “a certain kind of collegiate irony is like a reflex,” Mr. Perrotta said. “And it’s a reflex of superiority and condescension. It just wells up. But when I write, I try to quiet it down.”

OCT 16 UPDATE: And now it’s Entertainment Weekly‘s turn:

What kind of research did you do? Did you go to any of the faith conferences you describe in the book?
I did, I went to a Promise Keepers thing, but that was more for ambiance. I only went to church a couple times. Which, again, really helped me in terms of details. The ongoing research throughout was, I would start almost every day with a little Bible reading. Then I’d go and search Christian websites. I felt like, more than anything, that gave me direct access to the language they use and to the things that are challenging to them. The inevitability of failure is built right into the religion, the way they talk about it.

Errol Morris on Robert Fenton’s war photos

Just in case you haven’t seen them yet, Errol Morris — one of my favorite filmmakers — has posted some fascinating items at his New York Times blog regarding a couple of photos that were taken by Robert Fenton during the Crimean War, back in 1855. Both of these photographs depict the exact same landscape from the exact same position, but in one photo, there are cannonballs ON the road, whereas in the other photo, they are OFF the road.

Morris examines the many competing claims as to which photo was taken first, and as to whether Fenton staged one of them, and along the way he makes some very interesting points about history, methodology, and so on. He also talks about the trip he made to the place where the photos were taken — a place known, at least during the war, as the Valley of the Shadow of Death — to see if that might help him figure out which photo came first.

Morris is especially curious to know if the order of the photos can be figured out by examining the photos themselves, without any reference to other people’s claims about them (and if you open the OFF and ON photos in separate browser tabs, and then flip back and forth between them, you can try to figure it out too!).

So far, Morris has posted part one and part two of his musings, along with links to some additional resources. There will be a part three and, possibly, a part four later on. Stay tuned!

The OFF photo:

The ON photo:

The OFF photo against the landscape 150 years later:

The landscape itself:

OCT 24 UPDATE: Morris has now posted part three of his series.

DEC 18 UPDATE: Morris has now posted an analysis of the various interpretations of the photos made by his readers.

John Cho is Hikaru Sulu in Star Trek XI.

In a shocking departure from previous casting announcements, the makers of the next Star Trek movie have hired an actor who is older than the actor who created the character. John Cho, of American Pie (1999-2003) and Harold and Kumar (2004-2008) fame, has been hired to play helmsman Hikaru Sulu. Cho is 35, whereas George Takei was 29 when he created the role.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age — the review’s up!

My review of Elizabeth: The Golden Age is now up at CT Movies.

Rambo IV gets yet another new title

ComingSoon.net reports that Rambo IV — which went by titles like Rambo IV: In the Serpent’s Eye and Rambo IV: Pearl of the Cobra before it was re-named John Rambo, following the success that Sylvester Stallone had had by calling the latest entry in his other major franchise Rocky Balboa instead of Rocky VI — has been re-named again. Its new title is Rambo to Hell and Back.

It has been common knowledge for a while now that Rambo comes out of retirement in this film to rescue some Christian missionaries in Burma. But the official plot synopsis adds a few new details:

Less than two weeks later, pastor Arthur Marsh (Ken Howard) finds Rambo and tells him the aid workers did not return and the embassies have not helped locate them. He tells Rambo he’s mortgaged his home and raised money from his congregation to hire mercenaries to get the missionaries, who are being held captive by the Burmese army. Although the United States military trained him to be a lethal super soldier in Vietnam, decades later Rambo’s reluctance for violence and conflict are palpable, his scars faded, yet visible. However, the lone warrior knows what he must do…

I hadn’t realized before that Rambo is actually paid to rescue the missionaries here. I am trying to imagine any of the churches I have attended raising money in order to hire armed mercenaries to retrieve our missionaries. Indeed, I am trying to imagine any of the pastors or priests I have known trying to persuade someone to take up arms again against his conscience. I don’t think I can.

OCT 12 UPDATE: Harry Knowles at Ain’t It Cool News says he has talked Stallone into going back to the title John Rambo.

OCT 23 UPDATE: And now, in the trailer, it’s just plain Rambo:

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