Newsbites: Trek! Wolverine! Rowling! Scorpion!

Time for another batch of quickies.

1. The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed the rumours and says it’s true: Karl Urban and Chris Pine will play Dr. Leonard H. McCoy and Captain James T. Kirk, respectively, in Star Trek XI.

2. Variety reports that Wolverine has been postponed — again — to May 2009, and it has a newer, longer title: X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Hmmm, do you think they’re gonna make any other “origin” movies featuring characters from this series? Liev Schreiber is in talks to play a younger version of William Stryker, the villain played by Brian Cox in X2: X-Men United (2003).

3. MTV News says Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling has talked a little bit more about the Christian elements in her books:

While Rowling said that “Hogwarts is a multifaith school,” these quotes, of course, are distinctly Christian. The second is a direct quote of Jesus from Matthew 6:19, the first from 1 Corinthians 15:26. As Hermione tells Harry shortly after he sees the graves, his parents’ message means “living beyond death. Living after death.” It is one of the central foundations of resurrection theology.

Which makes it a perfect fit for Harry, said Rowling, who was talking about those quotes for the very first time.

“They’re very British books, so on a very practical note Harry was going to find biblical quotations on tombstones,” Rowling explained. “[But] I think those two particular quotations he finds on the tombstones at Godric’s Hollow, they sum up — they almost epitomize the whole series.” . . .

“Deathly Hallows” itself begins with two religiously themed epigraphs, one from “The Libation Bearers” by Aeschylus, which calls on the gods to “bless the children”; and one from William Penn’s “More Fruits of Solitude,” which speaks of death as but “crossing the world, as friends do the seas.” No other book in the series begins with epigraphs — a curious fact, perhaps, but one that Rowling insists served as a guiding light.

“I really enjoyed choosing those two quotations because one is pagan, of course, and one is from a Christian tradition,” Rowling said of their inclusion. “I’d known it was going to be those two passages since ‘Chamber’ was published. I always knew [that] if I could use them at the beginning of book seven then I’d cued up the ending perfectly. If they were relevant, then I went where I needed to go.

“They just say it all to me, they really do,” she added.

But while the book begins with a quote on the immortal soul — and though Harry finds peace with his own death at the end of his journey — it is the struggle itself which mirrors Rowling’s own, the author said.

“The truth is that, like Graham Greene, my faith is sometimes that my faith will return. It’s something I struggle with a lot,” she revealed. “On any given moment if you asked me [if] I believe in life after death, I think if you polled me regularly through the week, I think I would come down on the side of yes — that I do believe in life after death. [But] it’s something that I wrestle with a lot. It preoccupies me a lot, and I think that’s very obvious within the books.” . . .

For her part, Rowling said she’s proud to be on numerous banned-book lists. As for the protests of some believers? Well, she doesn’t take them as gospel.

“I go to church myself,” she declared. “I don’t take any responsibility for the lunatic fringes of my own religion.” . . .

John Granger comments on this story at

4. The Hollywood Reporter says a straight-to-DVD spin-off of the Mummy and/or Scorpion King movies is in the works:

“The Scorpion King: Rise of the Akkadian” . . . follows the events before “Scorpion,” the 2002 summer hit that starred Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Mathayus, the fearsome warrior king of an ancient desert empire.

Huh? It follows the events before the other film?

5. The Hollywood Reporter says Lionsgate, an indie studio that may be best known for the Saw franchise (2004-2007), has struck a deal with the Indelible Creative Group — and this is not the first faith-based content provider to strike a deal with the studio:

Earlier this year, Lionsgate forged a partnership with Thomas Nelson Inc., making the publisher of Christian books the exclusive distributor of Lionsgate DVDs in the retail market.

Lionsgate has also previously acquired North American documentary DVD rights to three works based on the writings of Christian author Lee Strobel, including last month’s DVD release, “The Case For Christ.”

Lionsgate’s other forays into faith-based films includes the upcoming theatrical release, “Church Boy,” based on the true story of gospel star Kirk Franklin, and a feature adaptation of the Thomas Kinkade painting called “The Christmas Cottage.”

The company also has seen success with a trio of films from writer-director-actor Tyler Perry: “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” “Madea’s Family Reunion” and “Daddy’s Little Girls.”

6. Kyle Smith quotes a hilarious bit from Adam Gopnik’s essay on DVD commentaries in the current New Yorker:

Gopnik says that on these commentaries, the conflict between the miserable director’s doomed grasp for art and the studio head’s yowl for profit is often a more interesting drama than the one contained in the movie you’re watching.

For instance. Gopnik lists in withering, hilarious detail all of the detail the director Allen Coulter breathlessly trumpets on the DVD commentary of the so-so drama “Hollywoodland,” about the suicide of a guy who played Superman on TV in the 1950s (”I was thinking about the Japanese Noh theatre, which begins with the clacking on the side of a drum,” Coulter says of the movie’s ordinary opening shot). The movie stars Ben Affleck as George Reeves, the depressed actor who played Superman in saggy tights and either killed himself or was murdered; his story, in flashback, is intercut with that of a detective on the case, Adrien Brody. The major problem with the movie is we don’t care about anything Brody’s uninteresting stock character does; we just want to get back to the main story, which is only half the movie. Gopnik calls the overall effect “unbelievably dull” and goes on to mock Coulter’s revelation that he drew up a “flow chart of gum-chewing, marking the dramatic trajectory on which the Brody character does and does not chew gum, and thereby revealing his moral growth.”

I am not sure whether that last quote comes from Gopnik or from Coulter himself. I would love it if it came from Coulter, though.

The Kite Runner — is it safe for all audiences, or should it be restricted?

The ratings in British Columbia are almost always more lenient than the ratings in the United States. Many films that get R ratings south of the border are rated 14-A up here, and some are even rated PG — usually because the only thing “objectionable” about them is the four-letter words or a few seconds of nudity.

Occasionally, however, a film will get a slightly stricter rating up here. Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996; my comments), for example, was rated G in the U.S. and PG in B.C. — but since both ratings are purely advisory and carry no age restrictions, the difference doesn’t really matter.

Today, however, for the first time that I can recall, I came across a film that got a PG-13 in the U.S. and an 18-A in B.C. In other words, anyone can see the film without a guardian in the United States, while British Columbians will be unable to see the film unless they have adult accompaniment or are adults themselves.

And what is the film in question? It is The Kite Runner, adapted by Marc Forster from the novel by Khaled Hosseini.

Here is the American rating:

Rated PG-13 for strong thematic material including the sexual assault of a child, violence and brief strong language.

And here is how the website for the B.C. Film Classification board explains the reasons behind the 18-A rating:

The following were determinative to the classification decision:
  1. Scene of sexual violence involving minors.

In addition to the foregoing content, classifiers noted the following:

  1. Scenes of violence including beatings and a stoning;
  2. Depiction of a person hit in the eye with a projectile;
  3. Nine instances of coarse language including blasphemy and derogatory references to sexual orientation.

And just for comparison’s sake, the Ontario Film Review Board has rated the film 14-A but makes no reference to rape or sexual assault or the involvement of minors, speaking only vaguely of:

Content Advisories:

Detailed Observations:

- Coarse language
- Slurs
- Occasional upsetting or disturbing scenes
- sexual innuendo
- Occasional portrayals of graphic violence

As it happens, the pivotal scene in question recently prompted the distributor to delay the film’s release, for the sake of its young co-stars. Two weeks ago, the New York Times reported:

The studio distributing “The Kite Runner,” a tale of childhood betrayal, sexual predation and ethnic tension in Afghanistan, is delaying the film’s release to get its three schoolboy stars out of Kabul — perhaps permanently — in response to fears that they could be attacked by Afghans angered by the film’s culturally inflammatory rape scene. . . .

The Taliban destroyed nearly all movie theaters in Afghanistan, but pirated DVDs often arrive soon after a major film’s release in the West. As a result, Paramount Vantage, the art-house and specialty label of Paramount Pictures, has pushed back the release of the $18 million movie by six weeks, to Dec. 14, when the young stars’ school year will have ended. . . .

Ms. Dowd and E. Bennett Walsh, a producer, said they met in Kabul with Ahmad Khan’s father, Ahmad Jaan Mahmoodzada, and told him that his son’s character was the victim of a “vicious sexual assault.” Mr. Mahmoodzada seemed unmoved, they said, remarking that “bad things happen” in movies as in life. The boy, they continued, did not receive a script until a Dari translation was available on the set in western China. The rape scene was rehearsed twice, they said, once with the father present.

On Tuesday the elder Mr. Mahmoodzada, reached by cellphone, rejected this account, and said he never learned the rape was a plot point until the scene was about to be shot. He also said his son never received a script.

Mr. Forster said that during rehearsals he considered including a shot of Hassan’s pants being pulled down, exposing his backside, and that neither Ahmad Khan nor his father objected. But the morning the scene was to be filmed, Mr. Forster found the boy in tears. Ahmad Khan said he did not want to be shown nude, Mr. Forster agreed to skip that shot, and the boy went ahead with the rape scene. Mr. Mahmoodzada confirmed this.

In the final version of the film, the rape is conveyed impressionistically, with the unstrapping of a belt, the victim’s cries and a drop of blood. . . .

So, apparently there is nothing in this scene that is so explicit that it would earn more than a purely advisory PG-13 rating in the States … and apparently the scene is suitable for unaccompanied teenagers in Ontario … but apparently the scene is also disturbing enough, at least within the context of the film, that it merits a restrictive 18-A rating in British Columbia. I guess the classifiers here take this sort of subject matter a lot more seriously.

UPDATE: This gets weirder. I just remembered that Lou Lumenick of the New York Post noted the other day that The Kite Runner “is being marketed to families with a giveaway competition for organizers of fan clubs”. Marketed to families, yet in some regions the film has the equivalent of an American R rating. Bizarre.

The Ten Commandments — the interview’s up!

An interview with Frank Yablans and Cindy Bond, producers of the new CGI version of The Ten Commandments that is opening in theatres later this week, is now up at CT Movies. (I didn’t speak to them myself, but I helped edit the piece.) They talk about their plans for the projected 12-part series Epic Stories of the Bible and reveal a few details about Noah’s Ark: The New Beginning, the next film in the series, which is already in production.

Will Karl Urban play McCoy in Star Trek XI?

Remember that rumour about Karl Urban — co-star of The Lord of the Rings, Pathfinder, Doom and The Bourne Supremacy — being in talks for the new Star Trek movie? Today reports that he is being pursued for the part of Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy; whether he gets the role will apparently depend on his schedule. Urban is 35; DeForest Kelley was 46 when he created the role.

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.”