Newsbites: The heretics! heretics! edition!

I jest, of course. I’ve got many other news bits stockpiled at the moment, but let’s get these ones out of the way, for now.

1. The Hollywood Reporter says Jesse Bradford, Steven Weber, Bob Odenkirk and Edward Herrmann have joined the cast of Son of Morning, the indie satire starring Joseph Cross as a dissatisfied ad copywriter who, because of some sort of environmental crisis, is somehow mistaken for the Messiah.

The Reporter notes that the title has been slightly modified from what it was before, and Matt Page notes that changing a single letter in the title could have huge implications for the tone of the overall film. As he puts it:

Originally this film was due to be called Son of Mourning which has connotations of “Man of Sorrows”, but now it seems that the title has changed to Son of Morning – a possible reference to Isaiah 14:12 which many interpret as being about Satan. I’m curious to see how [great a] shift in the filmmakers’ thinking this represents.

2. Matt Page also notes that Abel Ferrara’s Mary (2005), starring Juliette Binoche as an actress who loses herself in the role of Mary Magdalene, has just come out on DVD in Germany, and he compares and contrasts the packaging of the German disc with the packaging of the French disc. There is still no word on when the film will come to North America, though, as far as I can tell.

3. CT Movies links to a couple of stories in MovieMaker and the Jewish Daily Forward that look at how Bill Maher’s anti-religious docu-satire Religulous is being marketed.

A few thoughts on the twins’ first Disney movies.

The twins have really fallen in love with The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977) over the last few weeks. They sing along to the movie, they raise and lower their arms along with Pooh’s exercise regimen at the beginning of the film, and Thomas in particular even recites the dialogue along with the film, sort of; he doesn’t know most of the words yet, but he does make phonetic sounds that approximate the words spoken by the characters, and he does this in near-perfect sync with the rhythms and cadences of the film.

So familiar have they become with the film, in fact, and so often do they watch it, that the wife and I have begun to itch for opportunities to introduce them to other films. Among other things, we are seriously considering getting some of the sequels to Winnie the Pooh — the theatrical ones, not the straight-to-DVD ones — so that we can stick with these characters while introducing some fresher stories into the mix. Have we given into Disney’s evil scheme, whereby the studio makes a quick buck by churning out cheap knock-offs of its proven hits? Well, maybe, but I do think at least a few of those sequels are interesting in their own right; click here for a glimpse of the theological hay I made of The Tigger Movie (2000) way back when.

But we haven’t actually acquired any of those sequels yet. First, we turned to our existing library — and we settled on Peter Pan (1953). I’m not a particularly big fan of this film myself, but I thought it would be relatively innocent, compared to some of the darker and more intense Disney movies, so we popped it in the player — and then came all the stuff about the Native Americans, who are depicted in somewhat broad and unflattering caricature, even more so than the pirates and the mermaids. Now, I have never thought of myself as a particularly politically correct kind of guy, but seeing my kids watch this film as the characters sang ‘What Makes the Red Man Red?‘, I did get qualms.

Of course, at least two of the Indians escape racial caricature, at least of the more extreme sort. One of them is Tiger Lily, the sexy young thing who is one of the many girls and women competing for Peter Pan’s attention. The other is a girl, briefly seen, who is virtually identical to Tiger Lily but is apparently attached to a different man — and she has a mother who happens to fit the stereotype of the ugly and overbearing mother-in-law that was a staple of 1950s humour. So that’s another thing that rubs my modern sensibilities the wrong way.

So now my kids are equally addicted to Pooh and Pan, and I’m hoping I can wean them off of Pan in the near future, so that they can get used to other kinds of stories and images for a while, and then, down the road somewhere, when they’re older and have more of a “context” for this sort of thing, maybe we can reintroduce them to Peter Pan.

In the meantime, and jumping topics somewhat, I have found myself thinking lately that the characters in Winnie the Pooh don’t have the most creative or imaginative of names. Winnie and Eeyore at least sound like proper names, but Rabbit, Piglet and Owl seem to be mere labels, rather than names; Kanga and Roo are in a similar though not quite identical situation, and Tigger is saved from mere-label-ness simply because of an error in spelling.

I don’t necessarily mind all this, but I do find myself wondering if my children will be confused when they read other stories with rabbits named Rabbit and owls named Owl, etc. Are these the same characters? Is it possible for different people in different imaginative worlds to have the same name? Can the same name signify different people and thus different personalities and maybe even different meanings? What if one story’s Piglet is good while the other story’s Piglet is evil? And so on, and so on.

In the midst of these musings, I came across this item by David Robinson on the “meta-ness” of Bolt, a Disney cartoon formerly known as American Dog that is coming out later this year. And he tells a fascinating anecdote about Sesame Street and Big Bird that kind of ties into what I’ve been pondering:

If you’ve read The Tipping Point (and you have… c’mon…. admit it), you may recall a related vignette about a certain episode of Sesame Street, in which Big Bird searches for a new name. The plot of the episode was fun for adults—-Big Bird, in a moment of existential ennui, concludes that his name is oddly functional and lacking in character, and spends the rest of the episode looking for a new one. But the story was confusing to young children, who speed up their learning about the world by assuming (usually correctly) that the things they encounter have one consistent name apiece. The layering was overkill. It makes for an interesting vignette because most of us have long since forgotten what it would be like to lack layers, to view the world as a simple place where the distance between things-as-they-are and things-as-described doesn’t hold a lot of inherent interest.

The rest of Robinson’s thoughts, on Bolt etc., are interesting too. But I like what he has to say here about the world having and lacking layers, depending on one’s age. In this context, I guess it’s not such a bad thing after all if the rabbits are named Rabbit, and so on. They need to learn what a rabbit is, period, before they can start telling rabbits apart — just as they need to learn that not all bears are named Pooh, no matter how many times my daughter might say “Pooh!” while pointing to one of her teddy bears.

The Day the Earth Stood Still — the trailer!

A few months ago, I got to visit the set of the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, which was being shot here in the Vancouver area. Not for the first time, I marvelled at how it took hours and hours to produce maybe a few seconds of actual movie. A few of those seconds — showing military vehicles moving into position, in what I think is supposed to be Central Park — appear in the trailer below, which is reportedly playing before Hancock in some theatres right now, at least on the American side of the border:

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

JUL 4 UPDATE: The trailer has now been officially posted here.

Gods, Titans, and hundreds of Greek warriors.

Some interesting developments on the ancient-Greek movie front.

Variety and the Hollywood Reporter say Gianni Nunnari and Mark Canton, the producers of 300 (2006), are now collaborating on War of Gods, “a mythological tale set in war-torn ancient Greece, as the young warrior prince Theseus leads his men in a battle against evil that will see the gods fighting with soldiers against demons and titans.” The film will be directed by Tarsem Singh, director of The Cell (2000), The Fall (2006) and the music video for R.E.M.’s ‘Losing My Religion’ (1991).

As it happens, there is another Greek-mythological epic in the works right now, over at Warner Brothers, namely the remake of Clash of the Titans (1981) — and, thankfully, I think, this film has a new director since I last mentioned it here. The old director was Stephen Norrington, who brought Sean Connery’s career to a less-than-glorious end with League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003); the new director is Louis Leterrier, whose last job was this summer’s okay but basically unremarkable reboot of The Incredible Hulk. This Greek-mythic movie concerns Perseus, who “must overcome a series of obstacles to save his beloved Princess Andromeda, including cutting off the serpent-tressed head of Medusa, who can turn a man to stone with a single glance.”

Meanwhile, the folks at Collider got the producers of 300 to reveal last week that they are actually talking to writer Frank Miller and director Zack Snyder about making a sequel, or prequel, or something, to that movie. This could be difficult, since nearly everybody who mattered was dead by the end of that film, but who knows. My friend Paul Christian Glenn has some fun thoughts on the possible directions a sequel might take.

Sci-fi writers and their toys.

Arthur C. Clarke passed away a few months ago, but that’s no reason new interviews with him can’t keep popping up. posted one yesterday that was conducted in various installments eight or nine years ago, in which Clarke talks a fair bit about the people he has known and counted among his friends and influences. My favorite anecdote is this one:

Walter Cronkite is a man I’ve always admired, since we started working together in the 1960s, I think, when I joined him and Wally Schirra on the Apollo coverage. Walter is, I think, exactly as he appears to be, a real thoroughly nice man. I’ve had the pleasure of showing him around Sri Lanka and taking him for a ride in my hovercraft. He once took me for a trip in his sailboat, off Martha’s Vineyard, and when we got back to land I said, “Walter, I now understand the feelings of the man who said why should you go to all this trouble when you can get exactly the same sensation by standing in a cold shower and tearing up hundred dollar bills.” Today, thousand dollar bills! I was happy to meet him in the Hotel Chelsea in October of 1999—he hasn’t changed a bit!

I had no idea Clarke had a hovercraft — though a bit of Googling turns up the fact that Clarke acquired one because he “was so convinced wheels were on the way out.” Somehow the image of a British intellectual riding around in one of those things strikes me as a bit funny, but in the case of a scientifically and technologically minded person such as Clark, also very appopriate.

BC Christian News — July 2008

The newest issue of BC Christian News is now online, and with it, my film column, which looks at the films of M. Night Shyamalan en route to a brief comment or two on The Happening.

Click on the following titles for my longer reviews or comments on Wide Awake (1998), The Sixth Sense (1999), Unbreakable (2000), Signs (2002) and Lady in the Water (2006).

I have never seen Praying with Anger (1992) and I don’t appear to have written any reviews, per se, of The Village (2004).