Hat tip to Simply Victoria.

Canadian box-office stats — August 31

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.

Death Race — CDN $3,160,000 — N.AM $23,142,000 — 13.7%
Mamma Mia! — CDN $16,430,000 — N.AM $131,450,000 — 12.5%
Tropic Thunder — CDN $9,020,000 — N.AM $83,839,000 — 10.8%

The House Bunny — CDN $2,940,000 — N.AM $27,851,000 — 10.6%
Pineapple Express — CDN $7,880,000 — N.AM $79,883,000 — 9.9%
Babylon A.D. — CDN $938,698 — N.AM $9,565,000 — 9.8%
The Dark Knight — CDN $47,140,000 — N.AM $502,286,000 — 9.4%

Star Wars: The Clone Wars — CDN $2,470,000 — N.AM $29,608,000 — 8.3%
Disaster Movie — CDN $387,590 — N.AM $5,760,000 — 6.7%
Traitor — CDN $485,494 — N.AM $9,301,000 — 5.2%

A couple of discrepancies: Star Wars: The Clone Wars was #10 on the Canadian chart (it was #12 in North America as a whole), while Vicky Cristina Barcelona was #10 on the North American chart (it was #15 in Canada).

Juno and cities in Alaska.

Someone had to make this connection — and while I did think of it earlier today, RC at Strange Culture wrote it up first:

Mac MacGuff: And this, of course, is Juno.
Mark Loring: Like the city in Alaska.
Juno MacGuff: No.

What I want to know is why so many people seem to think that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin‘s family-values cred is compromised by her teenaged daughter’s pregnancy, given that so many pro-lifers were very eager to claim Juno — the movie that supposedly romanticized teen pregnancy — as one of their own only a few months ago. Haven’t pro-lifers proved that they can deal with, and even on some level embrace, this sort of thing?

As Rod Dreher puts it, “I can’t help thinking that in the matter of Bristol Palin and her unborn child, many on the left simply can’t stand it that conservatives are failing to live up to the malign stereotypes liberals have of them.”

SEP 3 UPDATE: Juno director Jason Reitman says a few brief things to Sharon Waxman about the Palins and his film.

Indiana Jones and the Deadly Blather / Notes on the devolution of a franchise.

“Didn’t any of you guys ever go to Sunday school?” So said Indiana Jones to a couple of bemused military intelligence agents in Raiders of the Lost Ark, easily the top-grossing film of 1981 and one of the greatest action movies ever made. And thus producer George Lucas and director Steven Spielberg seemed to make explicit what had only been implicit in the handful of films that they had made over the previous few years — films that had captured an entire generation’s spiritual imagination.

Lucas, of course, had helped to revive interest in the power of myth with his space-opera throwback, Star Wars (1977), and its sequel, The Empire Strikes Back (1980); the latter was particularly heavy on the spiritual development of its hero, Luke Skywalker. Some Christians, keen to capitalize on the franchise’s popularity, even went so far as to draw extensive analogies between the first movie and the biblical narrative; the fact that Obi-Wan Kenobi was betrayed by his disciple, and died, and continued beyond death as a counsellor to Luke was, of course, key to their interpretations.1 Spielberg, for his part, had directed Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977, re-edited and re-released in 1980), a film about aliens that spoke very strongly to the longing for enlightenment from above; in both images and dialogue, the film even made indirect references to the story of Moses and his encounter with God on Mount Sinai.2

[Read more…]

The Church Behind Fireproof / How a Baptist church in Georgia became a movie-making mecca

For several years the members of Sherwood Baptist Church have had a vision: “To touch the world from Albany, Georgia.”

And thanks to the power of mass media, this church of about 3,000 members — located in a city of only 80,000 or so — has been able to do just that.

Through its media ministry, the church has already produced two feature-length films with an all-volunteer cast and a mostly-volunteer crew. Given their incredibly low budgets, both films — especially Facing the Giants — have been enormously successful, in theaters and on DVD. Both films have also been distributed to over 50 countries around the world in a dozen subtitled languages.

Now the church is putting the finishing touches on its third film, Fireproof, which opens on September 26. This time the folks at Sherwood are working with a budget of $500,000 — still peanuts by Hollywood standards, but five times the budget of Giants — and they even have a professional Hollywood actor, Kirk Cameron of Growing Pains and Left Behind fame, in the lead role as a firefighter whose marriage is in trouble.

[Read more…]

Dark City and the ambiguous ending.

I finally got around to watching the “director’s cut” of Dark City (1998; my article) a few days ago, and as is often the case with these things, I liked some of the changes and didn’t care all that much for some of the other changes. Maybe some day I’ll make a “viewer’s cut”, just for me, that keeps some of the old bits but includes some of the new bits.

The “director’s cut” is close enough to the previous version that I don’t feel a need to add much to what I have said about the film before. But one thing does jump out at me, namely the way the film’s portrayal of its protagonist, John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell), has become just a little more ambivalent.

In the original version of the film, Murdoch is basically a sort of everyman who wakes up with no memories of his past but discovers that he has a superpower of sorts, namely the ability to re-shape the physical world with nothing more than the power of his mind. Over the course of the film, Murdoch discovers that the world he lives in is a complete fake, created by similarly superpowered aliens who kidnapped a bunch of human beings some time ago and began playing with their memories and identities in order to see if there was anything consistent about these people — anything resembling a soul — that could not be reduced to the simple programming of their brains. By the end of the film, Murdoch has defeated the aliens, and he uses his superpower — which none of the other human beings seem to have — to re-create the world as he sees fit.

Now, in one sense, this would seem to be a happy ending. Murdoch has been trapped in a dark, dreary city for the entirety of the film, wishing that he could visit a bright and cheery place called Shell Beach — and at the end of the film, Murdoch finally gets to go there. However, the reason he gets to go there is because he has created Shell Beach for himself. And lingering over the “happy ending” is the question of whether Murdoch can ever truly be happy in a world that, apart from the personalities of its citizens, offers him no surprises, no otherness, so long as it remains a projection of his own wishes and desires. (Consider, too, that Shell Beach was an idea planted in Murdoch’s mind by the aliens; Murdoch may have conquered the aliens physically, by banishing them from his world, but their influence lingers on other levels.)

To put this another way, Murdoch is a man with the powers of a god, and while the film ends on a happy note — with Murdoch finally mastering his godlike powers — it does not take too much imagination to conceive of a time when these powers might go to his head and drive him mad, or make him insufferable, to say the least.

These are thoughts I have always entertained about the film, ever since I first saw it in the theatre over ten years ago. But it wasn’t until I saw the “director’s cut” this week that I appreciated the extent to which director Alex Proyas is, himself, aware of the potential downside of a man like Murdoch having these powers.

First, at the climax of the film, after Murdoch has vanquished the aliens, the “director’s cut” removes a line of dialogue. In the original version of the film, Murdoch says, “I’m gonna fix things,” and then he talks about the powers he has, and his intention to use them. In the new version, he simply talks about the powers he has, and his intention to use them; the film no longer cues us to see Murdoch’s re-creation of the world as an essentially positive thing — though of course, given how that re-creation is depicted, most of us will see it that way anyway.

Second, and more importantly, at an earlier point in the story, as Murdoch and Inspector Bumstead (William Hurt) are taking Dr. Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland) to the place where they hope to find Shell Beach, Murdoch grills Schreber for information, and at one point he leans over the seat in Bumstead’s car and uses his superpower to inflict physical pain on Schreber. In essence, Murdoch tortures Schreber, however briefly, and his action brings a look of shock to Bumstead’s face. Thus the film explicitly raises the possibility that Murdoch might abuse his powers.

So the “director’s cut” of this film is a little more complicated, morally, than the version which has been out there for the past ten years. And while I might quibble with some of the other changes that Proyas has made to the film, I have to say I rather like this one — if for no other reason than it seems to confirm my more ambiguous reading of the movie’s climax.