Terminator, salvation, apocalypse.

Two new items on Terminator Salvation, both courtesy of the MTV Movies Blog. First, director McG discusses the movie’s title:

Broadly, of course, the title makes sense the same way “Judgment Day” made sense for the second film: on a worldwide scale — Judgment Day being shorthand for the apocalypse, etc, etc. So after the Judgment comes the salvation, the redemption from the sins of our collective past. Man created the robots, the robots destroyed man, and now man needs to be saved from his own creations. Got it.

“Even though we may sin, ultimately we deserve a second chance,” McG echoed.

But just as “Judgment Day” also alluded to the choice a Terminator must ultimately make, “Salvation” similarly alludes to the actions of one specific character, McG said.

“Sometimes life is worth living when you make sacrifices so others may benefit,” he teased.

The question is, though: which one? Is it John Connor? A Terminator? Kyle Reese? Kate Connor? Marcus Wright?

Second, McG discusses the reading material that he gave to the cast, to get them in the right mood:

“I gave all the actors ‘The Road’ to read to get their heads right bout this sort of existential detachment that living in a post apocalyptic world would bring,” McG revealed. “We’re in a very large post apocalyptic environment. The bombs have gone off and there’s very little left. People are wandering through lonely landscapes. We want to capture that by way of David Lean photographic expanses, so you think you’re looking at ‘Lawrence of Arabia.’ So far, so good.”

Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” follows a father and son journeying together through an ash covered landscape, some years after a worldwide disaster killed nearly every living thing on the planet. It’s bleak, haunting, and despite what may be construed as a somewhat happy ending, endlessly heartbreaking. It’s also, of course, some kind of brilliant, a treatise on fear, and despair, and death, and a future from which there is no escape.

McG thinks John Connor could sympathize. Actually, he’s insisting on it.

“I think the first two pictures took those ideas so seriously,” McG said of the themes of inescapable destiny and dread. “We wanted to make sure we did that [as well].”

The funny thing about this latter item is that the most recent movie to be based on a Cormac McCarthy novel was No Country for Old Men (2007), and a few critics, as I recall, said there was something “Terminator-esque” about Anton Chigurh, the relentless killer played by Javier Bardem in that film.

Franklin Graham on Billy: The Early Years.

Last Monday, I linked to a news story which indicated that Billy Graham’s son Franklin had not yet revealed what he thought of Billy: The Early Years, the upcoming movie about the beginnings of his father’s ministry. It turns out that Franklin actually posted a statement on the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s website sometime that day, distancing the organization from the film and complaining about unspecified inaccuracies within the film. CT Movies editor Mark Moring has written an excellent article on the subject, getting some extra detail from Franklin’s spokesman as well as some rebuttals from Franklin’s sister Gigi, who says Franklin is basically just nitpicking. Personally, as one who wrote a substantial article a few years ago on the many movies that were produced by the BGEA itself, I would like to know how Billy: The Early Years compares to similar “true story” movies like, say, Wiretapper (1955) or The Hiding Place (1975) or Joni (1979). Does it really take more liberties with the facts than those films do? Or are they all more or less in the same ballpark?

Religulous reviews begin to trickle in.

Religulous doesn’t come out until October 3, but it recently played in a couple of theatres near New York and Los Angeles, to qualify for the Academy’s award for Best Documentary Feature, and a few reviews and comments have begun to surface.

Robert Koehler, Variety:

Skeptics unite: You only have to lose your inhibitions. That, in sum, is the underlying message of Bill Maher and Larry Charles’ brilliant, incendiary “Religulous,” in which comedian/talkshow host Maher inquires of the religious faithful and finds them severely wanting. By providing an example to other non-believers, Maher is, um, hell-bent on launching an even more aggressive conversation on the legitimacy of religion than he has on HBO’s “Real Time With Bill Maher.” Sure to be a major talking point in Toronto and destined for tons of free media, docu looks primed for serious numbers in theatrical and vid heaven. . . .

To the film’s credit, Maher never engages in Michael Moore-style gotcha tactics, but rather asks questions that raise more questions, in the form of a Socratic dialogue. To believers expecting a blind hatchet job, this will prove both thought-provoking and a bit disarming; skeptics may be surprised (as Maher is) by the occasionally smart replies to his queries. . . .

Ending minutes, though, will catch auds up short: Suddenly, the laughs die down, and as in his closing monologues on “Real Time,” Maher turns deadly serious with a final statement that will stir raging arguments in theater lobbies. . . .

Lou Lumenick, New York Post:

I feel obliged to report that it rivals “The Aristocrats” as the funniest, and most offensive, documentary ever made. Maher, a former Roman Catholic whose interviewees include his Jewish mother, is in top caustic form as he sets out to expose all forms of faith as scams.

Devin Faraci, CHUD.com:

Though funny, smart and often profane, Religulous doesn’t want to send you out of the theater with a smile on your lips. The final moments of the film aren’t laugh out loud funny, but a parade of images of death and destruction. This, Bill Maher says, is what humanity is in for if it doesn’t get rid of the nuerological disorder that is religion. . . .

The basic concept of the film has Maher traveling around the world talking to believers about what they believe, and most importantly why (or how they can believe it, for that matter). From the Holy Land to the Holy Land Experience theme park in Florida, Maher goes where the believers are and engages them on their home turf. That makes a huge difference in how the film feels, as does the fact that he actually confronts them. Religulous is directed by comic genius and Borat helmer Larry Charles, and it would have been easy to do this movie in a similar vein to that one – letting these people dig themselves a ridiculous hole with their own words – but Maher isn’t interested in that. He wants to interact with these people, to confront them with the logic-hating aspects of their faiths and see what they come back with.

That’s where I think the movie succeeds the most, but also one of the main places where detractors will come after it. They’ll say that Maher is looking just to clown these people, but that isn’t the case. He’s more than slightly exasperated with the cop out answers that people give him (to the point where he actually gets kind of excited when a Jesus impersonater explains the parodoxical Holy Trinity by comparing it to the three states of water. It’s bullshit, Maher says, but it’s interesting and new bullshit to him), and this film is supposed to be funny so he’s being funny, but he’s also being fair. He’s asking these people straight, direct questions. In return he’s getting garbage like ‘What if you die and find out you’re wrong?’ . . .

Tom O’Neil, The Envelope:

When I attended a press screening for Bill Maher’s “Religulous” in New York on Tuesday, it struck me like a lightning bolt on the road to the Kodak Theatre via Damascus: yeah, “Religulous” will probably be nominated for best docu at the Oscars — and God help us all after that. . . .

In order to catch on widely like religion itself, what atheism has needed for a long time is a popular preacher to rally ’round. Maher just volunteered for the job that’s been vacant since Madalyn Murray O’Hair vanished in the 1990s (eventually found murdered in 2001). Richard Dawkins has been a fine temporary stand-in, but not flashy like O’Hair. Bill Maher kicks things up a notch. He’s a pop culture hipster who already has a large, anti-establishment flock, and he has a bully pulpit that O’Hair didn’t: his own HBO show plus vast presence across all media. . . .

John Nolte, This Is Dirty Harry’s Place:

Religulous is hosted by Bill Maher who, like Spurlock, travels the world in search of unsuspecting everyday folks who can be selectively and mercilessly edited into boobs, rubes, crazies, and the corrupt. More than three-quarters of the run-time is spent on the fringes of Christianity in places like truck stop chapels, Jews for Jesus gift shops, and Holy Land amusement parks — pretty much anyplace Maher would have the least chance of bumping into someone who could handle the game he’s running, the laziest game played by militant atheists: Biblical gotcha! . . .

Religulous isn’t smart, it’s smart ass. It’s also astonishingly dishonest. A game of Biblical gotcha! is one thing, but positioning the thoroughly debunked link between an ancient Egyptian god and Jesus as historical fact is what you might call the film’s Michael Moore moment — the moment so audaciously dishonest and unfair it undercuts any gains the film might have otherwise enjoyed. There’s Michael Moore catching Charlton Heston off guard, there’s Michael Moore showing the Iraqi people out flying kites, and there’s Bill Maher matter of factly presenting a wild conspiracy – that the Gospels are pretty much plagiarized — as fact. . . .

One comment, for the sake of fairness: Maher is certainly irreligious, but is he, technically speaking, an atheist? Would he, at any rate, define himself that way? I used to watch Politically Incorrect fairly regularly, and I seem to recall him saying, there, that he believed in “God”, or “a god”, though he was extremely vague as to what he might have meant by that. Wikipedia‘s entry on Maher also quotes an interview he did a few years ago, in which he said he was “not an atheist”. I am curious as to whether he repeats or clarifies that claim at any point in this film.

Yet another movie not screened for critics?

It’s a remake of an Asian film, and it stars Nicolas Cage, who has starred in such critics-shunning films as The Wicker Man (2006) and Ghost Rider (2007). So it is not all that surprising to see Cinema Blend and other sites reporting that there will be no press screenings for Bangkok Dangerous, which opens September 5.

AUG 27 UPDATE: The film opened in France today, so Variety has posted its review, and their critic, Jordan Mintzer, basically finds it underwhelming. The IMDb says the film opened in Spain five days ago, so in theory Variety could have run a review of it back then, but I guess they might not have any stringers there.

The Longshots — the review’s up!

My review of The Longshots is now up at CT Movies.

The murder of Abel and The Book of Lies.

What do the biblical murder of Abel and the modern murder of Mitchell Siegel (whose son Jerry would go on to co-create Superman) have in common? Yeah, I don’t know either, but apparently the connection between these two incidents is explained in Brad Meltzer’s upcoming novel The Book of Lies — and to promote the book, Meltzer’s people put together the following viral marketing video starring Buffy and Firefly creator Joss Whedon, God Is Not Great author Christopher Hitchens, The Year of Living Biblically author A.J. Jacobs, Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof and others. It all sounds rather contrived to me, but make of it what you will:

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