The Toronto Star previews Not the Messiah

Eric Idle has been all over the Canadian media lately; he expressed his possibly-ironic outrage over Shrek the Third during a radio interview in Toronto, and I saw him being interviewed by George Stroumboulopoulos on TV the other day. Now The Toronto Star has an item on Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy), the oratorio based on Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979; my comments) which premieres in Toronto this coming Friday:

The new show is going to be a work-in-progress until the lights dim at Roy Thomson Hall. And no one was going to let a member of the media see a copy of Idle’s script or Du Prez’s score. So we have to rely on Idle and Oundjian’s descriptions.

“John Du Prez describes it best,” says Idle. “He called it iPod Shuffle music. Our evening is sort of like that. It never settles in one style.”

Oundjian says there are musical numbers that mimic several different styles, including one song in which Idle does a Bob Dylan imitation. There is even a mock-Mozart duet. “It’s very sophisticated music.”

“Yah, the Mamas and the Papagenas,” quips Idle.

The story itself starts with the Life of Brian, “but as seen through the eyes of different characters,” Idle says. “It’s not just about getting laughs. Otherwise we could have just read the film script.”

“There are moments of great tenderness,” says Oundjian. He adds that you don’t have to know anything about classical music to appreciate the show. Idle says there’s no need to see the movie.

Hopefully, the music will be made available eventually for those of us who are nowhere near Toronto — via mp3, CD, even DVD.

MAY 28 UPDATE: Matt Page notes that there was another article on Idle and the oratorio in the Globe and Mail last week.

The Ten Commandments — the animated film

Two months ago, I made an extremely brief reference to an upcoming CGI cartoon by the name of The Ten Commandments.

Tonight, I discovered that if you click here, you can see a promo featuring several of the filmmakers, including Christian Slater (who plays Moses), Alfred Molina (who plays the Pharaoh Ramses), Elliott Gould (who plays God) and Ben Kingsley (who played Moses himself in a 1995 TV-movie produced as part of “the Bible Collection“, but merely narrates this newest version).

I haven’t a clue what to expect from this film, though I note that Slater says it will go further than The Prince of Egypt (1998), which pretty much came to an end at the crossing of the Red Sea. It seems the new film will get at least as far as God telling the Hebrews that they must wander in the wilderness for 40 years.

This is at least the third project to bear this name in recent years. Of course, the name is most commonly associated with the films that Cecil B. DeMille directed in 1923 and in 1956. But last year alone, we also saw a TV mini-series and the DVD release of a stage musical starring The Prince of Egypt‘s Val Kilmer.

If the new cartoon sounds like a remake, that may not be entirely accidental; one of its two directors, John Stronach, was also a producer on the animated version of Ben Hur (2003) that featured Charlton Heston‘s voice a few years back. And Heston, of course, played Moses in the 1956 version of The Ten Commandments.

And speaking of actors, I can’t help recalling that Slater and Kilmer co-starred in Renny Harlin’s Mindhunters (2004; my review).

Anyway, the new film opens in September in “over 600 theatres”. Time will tell if any of those theatres are in Canada.

Nollywood produces its own Amazing Grace!

From a Variety story on the Nigerian film industry:

While Hollywood’s interest in Africa continues unabated, African helmers are making a concerted effort to get their own stories out to the world. Chief among these are Nigerian helmers keen to break away from the straight-to-video model of local filmmaking.

Nigerian helmer Jeta Amata’s “The Amazing Grace” — about how British slave trader John Newton’s voyage to Nigeria in 1748 led to him writing the famous hymn — has become the country’s biggest-ever hit since its release last October.

The Nigerian film industry, dubbed Nollywood, produces up to 1,200 pics a year, although these tend to be ultra-low budget exploitation pics. Amata’s film, boasting an unheard-of $400,000 budget, is the first Nollywood feature to be released theatrically in the country since 1979. With admissions of some 25,000 people, the pic earned nearly double the gross of previous box office champ “Mr. & Mrs. Smith.” . . .

Amata has sold North America rights for film to U.S. distrib Rock City. . . .

Amata’s film stands in contrast to Brit helmer Michael Apted’s similarly titled “Amazing Grace,” about the abolition of slavery in the British empire, which also featured the real-life figure of John Newton. . . .

Hmmm, I wonder if that other movie about John Newton, The Heart of Man, is still in the works.

Denys Arcand’s newest film part of a “trilogy”

Brian Johnson of Maclean’s reports that Denys Arcand considers his new film, L’Âge des ténèbres AKA The Age of Innocence AKA Days of Darkness, to be “the final chapter in a trilogy that includes Decline of the American Empire and The Barbarian Invasions.” That’s interesting, because The Barbarian Invasions (2003) features characters from both Decline of the American Empire (1986) and Jesus of Montreal (1989), so I have always seen that film as the concluding chapter of a sort of informal trilogy.

“Pirates of the Caribbean ruined my marriage!”

Pardon the tabloid headline. But after reading this story in Variety on the stresses that people in the visual-effects industry have had to deal with lately, my heart does go out to them:

If the visual effects industry had its way, the Disney tentpole that sailed into theaters May 25 might have been named “Pirates of the Caribbean: At Wits’ End.”

Industrial Light & Magic topper Chrissie England, who’s seen many blockbusters come through her shop, calls the editing/post-production race to the pic’s delivery deadline “about the scariest thing I’ve ever seen.” The film’s vfx supervisor, John Knoll, calls it “a freakin’ miracle” that the film was done on time.

“Pirates 3,” warn England and Knoll, is just one tip of an iceberg that’s sending a chill through the visual effects industry. Visual effects houses are worried about the increasing demand for more product, at higher quality, in less time. Some effects houses have been losing key workers, and a few are threatening to shutter, because of the shifting economics. . . .

Call this increased pressure on effects houses the “War of the Worlds” effect.

Two years ago, ILM delivered eye-popping visual effects for Paramount’s “War of the Worlds” only three months after the end of principal photography. That set the bar impossibly high, so that producers now routinely demand “the ‘War of the Worlds’ schedule.”

In fact, that schedule was only possible because of unique circumstances, including the involvement of two men who are extraordinarily technically proficient: helmer Steven Spielberg and vfx mastermind Dennis Muren.

That movie, and the carefully planned, $60 million “300,” which was almost all effects, have created increasingly high demands from studios.

The beleaguered f/x houses also find their pay eroding as rival shops open up around the world. Effects budgets may be soaring, but they’re being spread over many more houses and many more shots. Effects houses are still paid by the shot, and per-shot fees have fallen 30%-40%.

The studios complain that the visual f/x shops always go over budget. Shops complain that they’re asked to absorb costs of poor studio and producer planning. . . .

One common complaint is that while studios ask for the “War of the Worlds” schedule, they also reserve the right to demand last-minute changes (something they wouldn’t dare do on a Spielberg film without the director’s say-so). That can turn a tight-but-attainable schedule into a crisis — or, in the parlance of the vfx industry, a “911,” where additional shops have to be hired for last-minute work.

To be sure, pressure is nothing new for effects pros. As the last link in the production chain, vfx shops traditionally have worked punishing hours in the run-up to release dates.

Now, though, there’s evidence that things are reaching a breaking point. Experienced vfx artists are changing careers, and at least one highly regarded shop is getting out of the vfx biz. Even industry leaders like ILM and Sony’s Imageworks are feeling the pain, worrying not only about their artists’ quality of life, but about the quality of the films they are working on. . . .

But the vfx industry is maturing. Digital artists have followed their work from London to New Zealand to California, but as the more experienced artists move into their 30s and 40s, get married and start families, they are less able to relocate and less willing to work 70-hour-plus weeks for months at a time.

“We haven’t worked our staff harder,” Vegher says. “If anything, we may have worked them less, because we’ve become more efficient.”

But the handwriting was on the wall. “We saw we weren’t going to be able to regulate that time anymore. It’s not good for the company, and it’s not good for our staff.”

So six months ago, [Giant Killer Robots] closed its doors while its founders pondered their future. They have decided to reopen, but to get out of the visual effects business, turning instead to CG animation and developing their own projects.

In the meantime, many GKR artists wound up at ILM, where they were caught in the same kind of crunch.

After four or five months of punishing hours on “Pirates,” there was still “Transformers” to finish. “The best artists,” says Knoll, “the ones who are most in demand, who can do the most to help a show make its final push, go from one show to another.”

Since they are also less likely to be recent college grads happy to subsist on ramen noodles, they are also more prone to family strains, divorces and even career changes. . . .

Sony creates new TV that bends like paper!

Click here for the Daily Mail story on this.