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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That studio that made Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is now working on an animated movie about the first Christmas

devonfranklinSony Pictures has had some success this year with “faith-based” films such as Moms’ Night Out, When the Game Stands Tall and Heaven Is for Real. Now their animation division is getting in on the action.

The Wrap reports that Sony Pictures Animation — the company responsible for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The Smurfs and Hotel Transylvania — is teaming up with DeVon Franklin, a preacher and former Sony executive who now heads his own production company, to develop The Lamb, an animated version of the Nativity story featuring “an all-animal cast.”

If the film does get made, it would be only the second Bible-themed animated feature to be made by a major studio, following The Prince of Egypt, which was produced by DreamWorks in 1998 — though the independently-produced Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie also got a wide release in 2002.

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Religion and comedy in the Sam Kinison biopic

Five years ago, I wrote a short blog post noting that HBO was developing a biopic on Sam Kinison, the Pentecostal preacher turned politically-incorrect stand-up comic.

Now, today, comes news that this project, which already had a few producers attached to it, finally has a director and an actor — and it turns out nearly everyone involved has mixed religion with comedy in one form or another in the past.

First, one of the producers is Tom Shadyac, director of Bruce Almighty (2003) and its sequel Evan Almighty (2007); more recently, he has documented his own personal spiritual quest in a film called I Am (2010).

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Black Nativity — the teaser is now online

Fox Searchlight has posted its first trailer for Black Nativity, the upcoming Kasi Lemmons adaptation of the Langston Hughes musical. As with the pictures that were released two months ago, the focus here seems to be on the modern-day scenes, but we do get what appears to be a taste of the “dream sequence” that re-tells the story of Jesus’ birth. See the trailer and a couple key images below.

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Christmas musical Black Nativity releases its first pictures

Four years after I first mentioned that a film version of the Langston Hughes musical Black Nativity was in the works — and three months after cameras finally started rolling on the adaptation — we now, at last, have some images from the film, courtesy of USA Today. Alas, all four of the pictures in question seem to be set pretty firmly within the real world, so we’ll just have to wait to see the “dream sequence” that re-tells the story of the birth of Jesus. The article that accompanies the new images does describe at least one part of that sequence, though:
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The naked Christ in film: birth, death and resurrection

“The Word became flesh,” according to John 1:14, but that flesh has been hidden, for the most part, in movie portrayals of Jesus. At certain key points in his life, history and even tradition would dictate that Jesus ought to be depicted nude — and there are good theological reasons for doing so. But films have tended to shy away from nudity in their own portrayals of those parts of the Jesus story.

There are some obvious reasons for this reticence, of course, starting with the fact that film, for much of its history, has been forced to skirt around images of nudity in general, and images of male nudity in particular. Plus, when a film does show someone’s nudity, it does not merely show you the character’s nudity; it shows you the actor’s nudity, as well, and the knowledge that you are seeing an actor’s naked body can sometimes distract you from the character. This is especially true when the character is meant to be an embodiment of divinity like Jesus.

There have been at least three significant exceptions, though — three films that each depict the nudity of Jesus at a different key point in his story.

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