This movie was not screened for critics.

The movies that come out in the first few months of the year are often, shall we say, crappy. So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Ultraviolet — which, at first glance, looks like a retread of Milla Jovovich’s Resident Evil movies (2002-2004; my review) — is the latest presumably schlocky film to open in wide release without being screened for critics in advance; as far as the studio’s concerned, critics are irrelevant at best and a hindrance at worst, and the movie’s target audience probably wouldn’t care what they have to say anyway. Still, that said, I can’t remember another two-month period in which so many movies opened wide without being screened for the media. Indeed, it seems like barely a week has gone by since New Year’s Day without at least one movie bypassing the film critics.

First there were Grandma’s Boy and Bloodrayne (January 6), both of which opened well out of the weekly top ten anyway; no fan base there! (As I recall, a screening was actually planned for the former film, but then it was called off.) Incidentally, this was the same weekend Hostel opened at #1, and while my admittedly fallible memory tells me that there was a press screening for it which I missed, I can find no trace of it in my records.

Then there was Underworld: Evolution (January 20), which opened at #1.

Then there was Big Momma’s House 2 (January 27), which may have been shown to a handful of critics, but not many, and certainly not in my neck of the woods; it also opened at #1.

Then there was When a Stranger Calls (February 3), which also opened at #1.

Then there was Date Movie (February 17), which opened at #2.

Then there were Madea’s Family Reunion and Doogal (February 24), the former of which opened at #1. Both films were actually screened for critics in Canada, which is how I saw them, but apparently neither film was screened in the United States — and what’s remarkable about that is that both films ended up on the American top ten for the week but not the Canadian top ten!

And now, there is Ultraviolet (March 3).

Note that three of these films were produced by Screen Gems — is it now their policy to just avoid critics’ screenings in general? — while another three were produced by 20th Century Fox. So maybe it’s not the industry-wide trend that it seems to be, yet.

Even so, there’s something alarming about this trend, though I’m not entirely sure what it portends. Is it a sign that movies are increasingly sucky, or that sucky movies are as profitable as ever (at least when they are either horror films or comedies featuring black men in drag as elderly women)? Or will the avoidance of critics spill over into films with an actual degree of merit?

MAR 23 UPDATE: And now, there are Stay Alive and Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector (March 24).

APR 4 UPDATE: And now, there are The Benchwarmers and Phat Girlz (April 7).

APR 23 UPDATE: And now, there is Silent Hill (April 21).

AUG 10 UPDATE: And now, there are Zoom and Pulse (August 11).

AUG 17 UPDATE: And now, there are Snakes on a Plane and, probably, Material Girls (August 18).

SEP 1 UPDATE: And now, there are The Wicker Man and Idiocracy and, apparently in the U.S. only, Crank (September 1).

SEP 8 UPDATE: And now, there is The Covenant (September 8).

OCT 13 UPDATE: And now, there are The Grudge 2 and The Marine (October 13).

OCT 27 UPDATE: And now, there is Saw III (October 27).

NOV 9 UPDATE: And now, there is The Return (November 10).

NOV 17 UPDATE: And now, there is Let’s Go to Prison (November 17).

NOV 30 UPDATE: And now, there is Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj (December 1).

DEC 26 UPDATE: And now, there is Black Christmas (December 25), which was shown to critics in Canada but not in the U.S.

BC Christian News — March 2006

The newest issue of BC Christian News is now online, and with it, my film column, which is basically a hodgepodge and a revision of things I’ve said elsewhere about Brokeback Mountain, the Oscars, and my top ten for the past year — with an extra note about the upcoming ‘Canada’s Top Ten‘ program at the Pacific Cinematheque.

One last spasm of list-making

Assist News Service reports that American Film Renaissance has released its list of the top ten dramatic films and the top five documentaries of 2005, as selected by industry types and journalists representing various outlets including USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review, Christianity Today, etc. I mention this because I was the Christianity Today guy.

That’s my family on TV!

Those who have kept tabs on my collection of baby pictures at might have noticed that there are currently almost no photos of my wife Deanna there.

This is partly because she and I tend to visit the babies at different feeding times, so as to give them collectively more time with their parents; and this is also partly because, on those occasions when we do go together, she is busy feeding them and, if I do take any photos, I tend to think of them as being for the family only.

But now, thanks to the CBC, you can all see her feeding the twins anyway! Click here for the text version of a story about Canada’s only milk bank, which includes links to RealVideo and QuickTime video files in which Deanna gets a 13-word soundbite.

The interview, and the footage of Elizabeth in her incubator and Thomas being fed, was shot at the BC Women’s Hospital only a few days after their birth on February 4. The twins have been at St. Paul’s Hospital — only three blocks down the road from our apartment — since February 11, and rumour is, they may finally be coming home this Friday. Life is about to get even cuh-razier.

Is The Da Vinci Code a “Christian” book?

Dan Brown, author of that curiously popular beach-read that so many people take seriously The Da Vinci Code, made a rare public appearance and a rare statement to the media today, to defend himself against charges made by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh that his novel constitutes a breach of copyright.

Baigent and Leigh co-authored the 1982 book Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and they say that Brown stole their ideas. As ever, there may be a fine line between theft and homage; the novel certainly pays cryptic tribute to Baigent and Leigh by naming one of its characters Sir Leigh Teabing, an anagram of “Leigh Baigent”, and by listing Holy Blood, Holy Grail as one of the books on his shelf. (Teabing is played in the upcoming film by Sir Ian McKellen.)

Brown is a pretty reclusive fellow, and not a whole lot about him or his beliefs is known outside of what may be inferred from his novels. But now the Associated Press reports:

Both books hinge on the theory that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and they had a child, and that blood line survives to this day. The earlier book set out the notion that Christ did not die on the cross but lived later in France. . . .

Phrases used in both books to describe arguments that Jesus had been married showed similarities, [lawyer Jonathan Rayner] James said. He told the court Brown’s work also appeared to reproduce “unusual and unlikely” connections between historical and religious figures set out in the earlier work.

“This is not an idea that I would ever have found appealing. Being raised a Christian and having sung in my Church choir for 15 years, I’m well aware that Christ’s crucifixion is the very core of the Christian faith,” Brown told reporters outside the courtroom, referring to the argument in the 1982 book that Christ had not died.

Brown has denied claims that he reproduced sections of argument from the 1982 book and said he disputes the proposition it makes that Jesus did not die on the cross.

“Suggesting a married Jesus is one thing, but questioning the Resurrection undermines the very heart of Christian belief,” Brown said in a statement released to reporters.

Why, it almost sounds like he’s a believer. Would he describe his novel as an expression of Christian faith, then, rather than as the anti-Christian thing that many of his critics have taken it to be?

FEB 28 UPDATE: A new version of the AP story is up now.

MAR 1 UPDATE: I notice now that The Daily Telegraph describes Dan Brown as a “devout Christian”. And I don’t know why I didn’t think of checking for something like this before, but I notice that Brown himself makes the claim in a FAQ at his website:

Yes. Interestingly, if you ask three people what it means to be Christian, you will get three different answers. Some feel being baptized is sufficient. Others feel you must accept the Bible as absolute historical fact. Still others require a belief that all those who do not accept Christ as their personal savior are doomed to hell. Faith is a continuum, and we each fall on that line where we may. By attempting to rigidly classify ethereal concepts like faith, we end up debating semantics to the point where we entirely miss the obvious–that is, that we are all trying to decipher life’s big mysteries, and we’re each following our own paths of enlightenment. I consider myself a student of many religions. The more I learn, the more questions I have. For me, the spiritual quest will be a life-long work in progress.

Interestingly, he also provides a partial bibliography for his novel, and he does list Holy Blood, Holy Grail among the titles, as well as one other book co-authored by Baigent and Leigh.

Canadian box-office stats — February 26

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.

Running Scared — CDN $439,564 — N.AM $3,075,000 — 14.3%
Brokeback Mountain — CDN $9,338,394 — N.AM $75,424,000 — 12.4%

Freedomland — CDN $1,039,532 — N.AM $10,778,000 — 9.6%
Nanny McPhee — CDN $3,847,455 — N.AM $42,596,000 — 9.0%

Eight Below — CDN $3,872,021 — N.AM $45,055,000 — 8.6%
The Pink Panther — CDN $5,166,972 — N.AM $61,046,000 — 8.5%
Firewall — CDN $3,075,905 — N.AM $36,893,000 — 8.3%
Date Movie — CDN $2,651,104 — N.AM $33,912,000 — 7.8%
Curious George — CDN $3,244,692 — N.AM $43,139,000 — 7.5%
Final Destination 3 — CDN $3,251,580 — N.AM $44,799,000 — 7.3%

A couple of discrepancies: Brokeback Mountain and Nanny McPhee were #8 and #10 on the Canadian chart, respectively (they were #14 and #13 in North America as a whole), while Madea’s Family Reunion and Doogal (AKA The Magic Roundabout) were #1 and #8 on the North American chart, respectively.