Canadian box-office stats — October 14

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.

Across the Universe — CDN $1,840,000 — N.AM $12,909,000 — 14.3%
Elizabeth: The Golden Age — CDN $708,992 — N.AM $6,183,000 — 11.5%

We Own the Night — CDN $1,130,000 — N.AM $11,000,000 — 10.3%
The Kingdom — CDN $3,920,000 — N.AM $39,954,000 — 9.8%
Good Luck Chuck — CDN $3,180,000 — N.AM $32,756,000 — 9.7%
Resident Evil: Extinction — CDN $4,650,000 — N.AM $48,067,000 — 9.7%
The Heartbreak Kid — CDN $2,500,000 — N.AM $26,001,000 — 9.6%
The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising — CDN $677,587 — N.AM $7,104,000 — 9.5%

Michael Clayton — CDN $918,499 — N.AM $12,087,000 — 7.6%
The Game Plan — CDN $3,960,000 — N.AM $59,447,000 — 6.7%

A couple of discrepancies: Good Luck Chuck was #9 on the Canadian chart (it was #11 in North America as a whole), while Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married? was #1 on the North American chart.

Catholics and Secularists diss Golden Compass

If you’re offending people on both sides of any given issue, does it necessarily follow that you must be doing something right?

It was completely unsurprising when Bill Donohue of the Catholic League released a statement a few days ago condemning The Golden Compass. They tend to go after a lot of things.

But now comes this report from the Observer, a British paper:

One of the key religious themes of Philip Pullman’s award-winning series of children’s novels, His Dark Materials, has been watered down to appeal to a wider audience in the new Hollywood film version of the first book. The original story’s rejection of organised religion, and in particular of the historic abuse of power in the Catholic Church, has been altered to avoid offending followers of the faith in the UK and in America. . . .

While Pullman himself has said he believes ‘the outline of the story is faithful to what I wrote, given my knowledge of what they have done’, the National Secular Society – of which the author is an honorary associate – has now spoken out against the changes.

‘It was clear right from the start that the makers of this film intended to take out the anti-religious elements of Pullman’s book,’ said Terry Sanderson, president of the society. ‘In doing that they are taking the heart out of it, losing the point of it, castrating it. It seems that religion has now completely conquered America’s cultural life and it is much the poorer for it. What a shame that we have to endure such censorship here too.’ . . .

Whenever Donohue opens his mouth and takes a shot at some movie looming on the horizon, commentators are usually quick to point out that he is condemning something he hasn’t even seen yet. Methinks that criticism applies to Sanderson, too.

OCT 17 UPDATE: Pullman comments on the recent complaints in an interview with the Western Mail, a Welsh newspaper:

He told the Western Mail, “This must be the only film attacked in the same week for being too religious and for being anti-religious – and by people who haven’t seen it.” . . .

The author yesterday refused to reveal any more about the film, although he admitted he was happy with what he had seen during a series of visits to the set.

“I’ve been kept informed with what’s going on – I have very friendly and happy relations with the film-makers and I’m very happy with what they are doing,” he said.

“All these stories have been generally mischievous and they have all been written without knowledge of what the film is like.

“As far as I know, these people have not seen the script or shots of the film.” . . .

The final word, as far as Pullman is concerned, for those who want to comment on the movie’s content: “Why not wait and see.”

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:

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

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.