National Geographic unveils the cast for Killing Jesus

killingjesusThe National Geographic Channel’s adaptation of Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Jesus is now filming in Morocco, and thanks to The Hollywood Reporter, we now know who many of the actors are — and they’re an eclectic bunch, to be sure.

In keeping with other recent efforts to depict Jesus as something other than a blonde-haired, blue-eyed European, the part of Jesus will be played by Haaz Sleiman, an actor born in Lebanon who is perhaps best-known for playing a Syrian immigrant in Tom McCarthy’s The Visitor.

Herod the Great, on the other hand, will be played by Kelsey Grammer, who doesn’t seem like a particularly Middle Eastern kind of guy to me. (The fact that he’s best known for his comedic roles on Frasier and The Simpsons doesn’t help!)

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The Ascension of Christ in film: literalism, symbolism, etc.

Today is the Feast of the Ascension, when Christians remember how Jesus was taken up into heaven 40 days after his Resurrection. It’s one of the stranger bits in the Gospels — both difficult to understand, given our modern cosmology, and difficult to pull off visually — and most of what we know about it actually comes from the Book of Acts. So it’s not too surprising that most films about Jesus have tended to skip this episode.

Nevertheless, a few films have depicted the Ascension, often by mixing it with elements from other stories in the gospels, and even those that don’t depict it have often made a point of ending on a note that suggests Jesus has transcended this life in some way that parallels the Ascension. Here are a few examples.

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Paramount and MGM team up for the Ben-Hur remake

If there’s one studio that has consistently tried to revive the Bible epic since the genre died in the 1960s, it’s Paramount.

They were involved with Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ in the early 1980s, until protesters prompted them to pull the plug mere days before the film was supposed to start shooting.

They were the ones who produced King David, starring Richard Gere, in 1985.

And they were the ones who gave the green light to Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, which is now the second-highest-grossing Bible movie ever worldwide, behind Mel Gibson’s independently-produced The Passion of the Christ (2004).

So now, reports Variety, they are teaming up with MGM to co-produce the upcoming version of Ben-Hur, which will be directed by Timur Bekmambetov from a script by John Ridley, who recently won an Oscar for his work on 12 Years a Slave.

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How do you promote a Bible epic when you’re not religious?

Ridley Scott first revealed that he was making a life-of-Moses movie while promoting Prometheus last year. I’d been hoping that he would spill even more details about the film, now called Exodus, while promoting his latest film, The Counselor, but alas, that film didn’t get much of a promotional push (and it ended up having one of the worst opening weekends of Scott’s career).

A few tidbits about Exodus have trickled out, however. First, Scott told The New York Times: “I’m an atheist, which is actually good, because I’ve got to convince myself the story works.” And then, he told Empire magazine the film will be “fucking huge.”

Suffice it to say, this is not how Bible epics have generally been promoted in the past.

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One controversial Jesus movie turns 25, another turns 40

Two movies about Jesus, both of which were quite controversial in their day, are celebrating major anniversaries this month.

First, there is Jesus Christ Superstar, which premiered in New York City 40 years ago yesterday before going into general release on August 15, 1973.

I don’t appear to have written all that much about this film over the years, though I did write the following about the 25th-anniversary edition of the soundtrack in an article for BC Christian News that was first published in 1999:
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Israeli director pays short-film homage to the prophet Amos

Don’t know how I never heard of this before, but it turns out nine directors from around the world are contributing to an upcoming film about religion called Words with Gods.

The film, an anthology of short movies, is the brainchild of Mexican filmmaker Guillermo Arriaga, who wrote films like Babel (2006) and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005) before getting into the director’s chair for The Burning Plain (2008).

I first became aware of the new film when The Hollywood Reporter announced today that Peter Gabriel has signed on to write the music for it. A quick bit of Googling soon revealed that one of the nine directors involved in the project is Amos Gitai (pictured above), and that his contribution is called ‘The Book of Amos’.

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