Review: Thank You for Smoking (dir. Jason Reitman, 2005)

thankyouforsmokingNick Naylor is the sort of character for whom the phrase “the charm of the devil” was invented. He’s witty, intelligent, engaging — and a completely unapologetic apologist for the tobacco industry, an industry that he openly acknowledges, to certain people anyway, is responsible for the deaths of thousands, if not millions, of people.

The thing is, he also believes those people are even more responsible for their deaths, because they actively chose to smoke cigars and cigarettes even though it has been common knowledge for decades that tobacco causes lung cancer. And so Nick campaigns against anti-tobacco activists, not only to defend his employers, but to save the public from those meddling, do-gooder government types who try to save people from themselves.

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Canadian box-office stats — April 30

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.

Take the Lead — CDN $4,261,961 — N.AM $29,556,000 — 14.4%
Scary Movie 4 — CDN $7,138,239 — N.AM $78,171,000 — 9.1%
Ice Age: The Meltdown — CDN $15,599,943 — N.AM $177,708,000 — 8.8%

The Wild — CDN $2,306,422 — N.AM $28,430,000 — 8.1%
Silent Hill — CDN $2,747,625 — N.AM $34,231,000 — 8.0%
The Benchwarmers — CDN $3,996,429 — N.AM $52,782,000 — 7.6%
RV — CDN $1,188,427 — N.AM $16,400,000 — 7.2%
The Sentinel — CDN $1,848,079 — N.AM $25,541,000 — 7.2%
Stick It — CDN $663,560 — N.AM $11,255,000 — 5.9%
United 93 — CDN $558,701 — N.AM $11,605,000 — 4.8%

A couple of discrepancies: Take the Lead was #9 on the Canadian chart (it was #13 in North America as a whole), while Akeelah and the Bee was #8 on the North American chart.

Grappling with the Da Vinci juggernaut

“SEEK the truth.”

So say the posters for The Da Vinci Code. And so say many Christians who hope to make this movie a witnessing opportunity when it opens May 19 — despite its dismissal of the divinity of Jesus and its controversial claims about the marital status of Christ, the formation of the Bible and the church’s treatment of women.

In contrast to past controversies, such as the various efforts to suppress Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ in the 1980s, pastors and scholars have written books, prepared sermon series, and created websites devoted to “engaging” the movie and book versions of The Da Vinci Code as part of an ongoing “dialogue” with the larger culture.

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Newsbites special: Da Vinci! Muslims! etc.!

Pardon the change in format, but I’ve been stockpiling some of these newsbites for a week or two now, and I want to flush ’em out!

1. Stories about The Da Vinci Code:

  1. Opus Dei Asks for ‘Da Vinci’ Disclaimer
    The conservative religious group Opus Dei has asked for a disclaimer on the upcoming film based on the best-selling novel “The Da Vinci Code.”
    Opus Dei, portrayed as a murderous, power-hungry sect in the novel by Dan Brown, wrote in an April 6 letter to Sony Corp. that a disclaimer would show respect to Jesus and to the Catholic Church.
    Associated Press, April 15

  2. Opus Dei asks “Da Vinci” film makers for respect
    Spokesman Jim Kennedy noted Sony Pictures always viewed the movie as a “a work of fiction … a thriller, not a religious tract. We believe the filmmakers are going to deliver an exciting movie that will delight audiences, not offend them.”
    Kennedy also noted that Sony Pictures is supporting a Web site,, where interested people can read expert opinions about issues raised by the book and movie.
    Reuters, April 17
  3. Report: ‘Da Vinci’ Boycott Urged
    A Vatican official reportedly called for a boycott of the upcoming “The Da Vinci Code” film Friday, saying it contained “slanderous” offenses against Christianity that would have provoked a worldwide revolt had they been directed against Islam or the Holocaust.
    Associated Press, April 28
  4. With Movie Due, ‘Da Vinci’ Debate Persists
    The problem is that “Da Vinci” is billed as more than mere fiction.
    Brown’s opening page begins with the word “FACT” and asserts that all descriptions of documents “are accurate.”
    Associated Press, April 29

2. Stories about Muslims and film:

  1. Muslim film festival in NY is shouting to be heard
    More than 30 movies from the Arab and Muslim world will be playing at a week-long New York film festival, but will anybody be watching?
    The Alwan Film Festival, created by a nonprofit group in lower Manhattan, features several well-known Middle Eastern directors. The films tackle timely subjects like the war in Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Afghanistan.
    Reuters, April 15

  2. Saudi Movie Buffs Bemoan Lack of Theaters
    More Saudis like Eyaf are speaking out about the issue, hoping their voices will one day bring movie theaters back to the country. Several Saudi newspapers now have a weekly movie page that highlights the cultural values of movies. An official Saudi TV station hosted a program on the subject. Cartoon movies were shown at a summer festival in the southwestern province of Asir and during a feast in Riyadh. And a few Saudi movies with no chance of officially being shown in the kingdom are taking part in film festivals worldwide.
    Associated Press, April 27

3. Stories about science-fiction and fantasy films:

  1. It Won’t Be Kirk And Spock
    But the million dollar question is, what will it be about? Unsurprisingly, Abrams isn’t saying (“We’ve made a pact not to discuss any specifics”) but the Lost creator is a confirmed Original Series fan so don’t be surprised if his take on the series does indeed take place around the era of Kirk and co, or if some of the established characters do make a reappearance. “Those characters are so spectacular. I just think that… you know, they could live again.”
    Empire, April 26

  2. George Takei: The TV Squad Interview
    George and I talked about the speaking tour, Howard, his guest turn on Will & Grace, and his appearance as Sulu on a web-only Star Trek series. Oh, and I couldn’t leave without asking him about Bill Shatner at least once.
    TV Squad, April 26
  3. ‘Earth’ to Fraser for Jules Verne redo
    Brendan Fraser has boarded “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” a contemporary, 3-D update of the Jules Verne classic.
    The story revolves around a scientist who is stuck with his nephew as they embark on a trip to Iceland to check on a volcanic sensor. During a storm, they get trapped in a cave and the only way out is through the center of Earth.
    Shooting starts June 10 in Montreal. Eric Brevig directs. New Line will distribute the project for “Narnia” producer Walden Media.
    Reuters, April 21
  4. Latest Hollywood script deals
    20th Century Fox has paid a low-six figure advance for Mark Legan and Mark Wilding’s pitch “Family Time,” a family time-travel adventure similar in tone to “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.”
    Reuters, April 27
  5. Latest Hollywood script deals
    Yuri Zeltser and Cary Bickley . . . are writing “The Tattooed Map,” a mystery based on Barbara Hodgson’s novel, for the Jim Henson Co.
    Reuters, April 19
  6. Latest Hollywood script deals
    Universal Pictures has pre-emptively acquired Lucas Sussman’s pitch “The Hunt,” paying a mid-six-figure advance against a high-six-figure payout if the film is produced.
    The supernatural adventure centers on the world’s greatest hunter, who sets out to capture the ultimate beast: the devil himself.
    It will be produced by “Requiem for a Dream” director Darren Aronofsky and business partner Eric Watson through their Universal-based Protozoa Pictures shingle.
    Reuters, April 17

4. Stories about religious themes in film:

  1. LDS film prompts warning by theater
    Mauss walked up to the ticket counter and asked for two tickets.
    “Are you Christian?” the girl at the ticket counter asked.
    Mauss was surprised but responded in the affirmative. It was her next statement that surprised him.
    “She responded, ‘Well you need to know that this film, it’s being advertised as a Christian film, but it’s really a Mormon film.'”
    From further questions, Mauss learned that the theater’s supervisors had told their employees to “warn” ticket buyers about the film. They had complaints from people upset because the movie wasn’t what they expected.
    “I asked (movie theater employees) if it was a Catholic film, would you say, this isn’t a Christian film, it’s a Catholic film?” Mauss said.
    Daily Herald, April 27

  2. Author Jakes lands inspiring deal with Sony
    Bishop T.D. Jakes, the self-help author behind the religious-themed drama “Woman Thou Art Loosed,” has signed a production and distribution deal with Sony Pictures Entertainment.
    The three-year pact covers theatrical releases and DVD exclusives generated by his production company, TDJ Enterprises. The first film will be “Not Easily Broken,” based on an upcoming novel by Jakes. Shooting is scheduled to begin later this year.
    Reuters, April 18
  3. Gospel comedy “Preaching” to limited audience
    Call this one “Brother Act.” Instead of Whoopi Goldberg’s Reno lounge singer in “Sister Act” hiding out from mobsters in a convent, where she transforms the choir into swinging hipsters, “Preaching to the Choir” has a hip-hop star hiding out from a gangsta record producer in his estranged brother-minister’s Harlem church, where he transforms the choir into a gospel-belting group.
    Hollywood Reporter, April 16

5. Miscellaneous stories of interest:

  1. Pacino’s in play with ‘Salomaybe’
    Al Pacino’s love for theater and film will intersect again with “Salomaybe?” — a feature film in the vein of his 1996 docu “Looking for Richard.”
    Pic will interweave behind-the-scenes footage from a current Los Angeles staging of Oscar Wilde’s “Salome” with fictional elements.
    Pacino directs and also will be on camera in the pic. He plays King Herod in the biblically inspired tragi-comedy about lust and betrayal, which bowed last week at L.A.’s Wadsworth Theater. Production previously played Broadway.
    Variety, April 17

  2. A volcano, an olive branch and Exodus
    The Exodus Decoded, a film by Simcha Jacobovici of Toronto and James Cameron, as in The Titanic, formerly of Niagara Falls, Ont., argues that the plagues and other Biblical calamities visited upon Egypt, after Pharaoh refused Moses’s demand to “let my people go,” were effects of the Santorini cataclysm. Their case is mostly plausible.
    National Post, April 29
  3. Rwanda survivors say Hollywood has got it wrong
    Three films in two years about Rwanda’s genocide have shocked Western audiences with the scale and savagery of the slaughter, but many survivors in the tiny central African nation are unimpressed. . . .
    “‘Sometimes in April’ is characterized by very serious inaccuracies and omissions which made most survivors say, ‘It is not our story’,” said Francois Ngarambe, president of a Rwandan genocide survivors’ association. . . .
    Ngarambe said the film wrongly portrayed the genocide as largely the work of militia, neglecting the careful planning by the Hutu extremists in the government and the military.
    The latest screen take on the genocide, and the only to be filmed on location, Michael Caton-Jones’s “Shooting Dogs,” had its world premiere at a stadium in Kigali last month. . . .
    It has also been criticized by some survivors, particularly for one scene where a white Roman Catholic priest decides to stay with the refugees, rather than be evacuated along with his expatriate colleagues.
    Many senior church leaders were complicit in some of Rwanda’s killings and the depiction angered many who already blame the United Nations and Western powers for failing to intervene.
    “There was never a situation, not at that school or anywhere, where a white person refused to be evacuated. That is a pure lie,” said Wilson Gabo, a coordinator of Rwanda’s Survivors Fund charity. . . .
    Amid international inaction, the genocide was finally ended by Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, who led a rebel army from Uganda to seize power. He has recently joined the film debate, sharply criticizing the Oscar-nominated “Hotel Rwanda.”
    Released last year, Terry George’s movie stars Don Cheadle as Paul Rusesabagina, the Hutu manager of a Kigali hotel where more than 1,200 people survived the killings taking place outside.
    Kagame, a Tutsi, said the South African-filmed portrayal of Rusesabagina was a “falsehood,” and he would not have picked him as a symbol of heroism in those tragic times.
    “Some of the things actually attributed to this person are not true,” Kagame told reporters last week. “Even those that are true do not merit the level of highlight.”
    Reuters, April 19

Sowing seeds of doubt in a Narnia fan’s mind

I have an anecdote. But first, an excerpt from my review of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:

In addition, the film gives the Witch more stature while dialing back the stature of Narnia’s Christ-figure Aslan . . . just a notch or so. . . . Aslan loses some of his warmth and ironic humour, especially when the Witch boldly approaches his camp and demands Edmund’s life. Here, it is Aslan, not the Witch, who loses his temper.

Second, a similar point, made at greater length, courtesy of my friend and colleague Steven D. Greydanus:

Perhaps the single gravest change to the story is one that greatly empowers the Witch at Aslan’s expense. It is simply the eradication of the whole motif of the Witch’s overt fear of Aslan. This is absolutely crucial to the book’s emphasis on the utter lack of parity between the omnipotent Aslan and the powerful but limited Witch. The whole vision of good and evil at work in the story turns on the fact that the Witch is never even close to being a rival or threat to Aslan, any more than Lucifer to Christ himself.

The filmmakers, perhaps motivated by a misguided dramatic notion of needing the villain to be a credible threat to the hero, eliminate practically every indication of the Witch’s fear of Aslan from the story — in the process jettisoning much of the point Lewis was making about the nature and relationship of good and evil. . . .

The problem of the apparent parity of Aslan and the Witch is nowhere more glaring than in the parley or summit meeting, which the film begins and ends very differently from the book. In the book, Lewis makes a point of having the Witch send her Dwarf to beg safe conduct from Aslan before she will dare to approach him. In the film, by contrast, we’re told that the Witch has “demanded” an audience with Aslan, with no mention of safe conduct requested or granted. In fact, the film depicts her fearlessly entering Aslan’s camp on a royal litter with her dwarf acting as herald proclaiming her arrival, rather than as emissary begging safe conduct.

The end of the parley scene, a highlight of the book, is even more glaringly changed. In the book, when the Witch expresses doubt whether Aslan will keep his word, he lets out a terrible roar, striking the Witch’s dumb with terror and causing her to flee abjectly for her life. In the film, since the Witch has come in a litter, she can’t very well pick up her skirts and head for the hills, as Lewis had it; instead, she merely looks a bit shaken and sits down kind of hard before being carried off. Lame.

Even during the parley, the film subtly undermines Aslan’s control of the situation. In the book, when the Witch brings up the Deep Magic, Aslan remains supremely calm, even toying with the Witch (“Let us say I have forgotten it. Tell us of this Deep Magic”), causing her to begin shrieking angrily about the Stone Table, the sceptre of Aslan’s father, the Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea, and the World Ash Tree.

In the film, on the other hand, it’s Aslan who gets angry, snarling, “Don’t tell me about the Deep Magic! I was there when it was written!” This is an interesting line, but Aslan now seems merely indignantly assertive, rather than supremely in control. (In interviews, Tilda Swinton has spoken of not wanting to portray the Witch getting angry and “hot under the collar,” which she felt would only diminish her character. Ironically, no one seems to have noticed or cared that Aslan was diminished in precisely this way.)

And now for my anecdote.

Two nights ago, an acquaintance of mine was reading a chapter or two from the book to a 7-year-old boy — she was, in fact, reading the bit with the parley scene — and when she got to the part where the White Witch picks up her skirts and runs, the boy interjected, “What happened was, the Witch sat down in her chair…”

At that point, I had to pipe up and say, “No, the film changed that.”

“Oh,” he said, but I wasn’t sure he fully grasped what I was saying. I wonder if I have challenged or disturbed someone’s notion of reality, now. I mean, y’know, if he can’t trust what he saw in the movie with his own two eyes, well, then, what can he trust?

FWIW, I do own the DVD of this film myself, but I think I shall try to keep it far, far away from my children until they have read the book (or, for that matter, until they have seen the earlier adaptations of the book, which are considerably more faithful).

Akeelah and the United Water — the reviews are up!

My review of United 93 is now up at CT Movies, as is my review of Akeelah and the Bee, as is my review of the Genie Award-winning (for cinematography, music, and lead actress) Water.