Newsbites: Harry Potter! Ringtones! Monastery! Prisoner! Disney! Steyn! Hunyadi! Doubt! etc.!

Newsbites: Harry Potter! Ringtones! Monastery! Prisoner! Disney! Steyn! Hunyadi! Doubt! etc.! December 28, 2006

Time to stop stockpiling these items.

1. John Granger has redesigned his Hogwarts Professor site, and he has already posted lots and lots (and lots and lots…) of thoughts on the possible meaning of the recently-announced title of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the last of the books.

2. If there is one thing I learned from my days as a video-store clerk, it is that horror movies get some of the most brilliant marketing gimmicks. Now comes this Hollywood Reporter story:

To promote the upcoming supernatural thriller “The Messengers,” Sony Pictures has included in its dossier of digital-marketing tools a ringtone only young consumers can hear.

Ultrasonic ringtones — ringtones that are audible to teenagers but not adults — are a featured aspect of the film’s promotional campaign, which is geared toward a teen audience and inspired by the movie’s story line about a young female protagonist insisting she hears voices that her parents cannot hear.

“The fact that only kids can hear it winds up being a thematic fit with the notion in the film that her parents don’t believe her,” said Joe Epstein, executive director, worldwide digital marketing strategy, Columbia TriStar Marketing Group. “We wanted it to be really relatable to teens conveying to this target audience that this is a character a lot like them along with this sense that kids and young adults are better conduits to the paranormal.” . . .

The theory behind the original creation of such ringtones is that as people get older, their hearing normally worsens. Ultrasonic ringtones are thought to be inaudible to people over the age of 25.

Adult-proof ringtones first got attention in the form of “Teen Buzz,” a popular ring tone adapted from a sonar-based security system used in Europe to keep teenagers from loitering at retail outlets.

According to Epstein, who also cited the early use of such high-pitched intonations as a security deterrent by shop owners in Britain against hoodlum teens, it’s the first time they have been tied promotionally to a film’s theatrical release.

3. Variety reviews The Monastery: Mr. Vig & the Nun:

A curmudgeonly octogenarian offers his crumbling Danish castle to the Russian Orthodox Church, but then clashes with the new nun-in-chief about how to run the place in accomplished docu “The Monastery.” Using material shot sporadically over six years, TV-experienced helmer Pernille Rose Gronkjaer builds an affectionate but admirably unsentimental portrait of her eccentric, headstrong protagonists. Pic, which won first prize at top-tier docu fest IDFA, could win hymns of praise from auds and TV buyers when it screens at Sundance next month. However, theatrical distribs might justifiably be more cautious given film’s offbeat subject matter. . . .

Despite Amvrosya and Vig’s cultural and personality clashes, Gronkjaer captures moments that illustrate their growing affection for one another, even a kind of platonic love that grows out of their shared pursuit of a spiritual way of life. Scenes of the nuns’ long, mesmeric, music-suffused services are juxtaposed with ones showing Vig and Amvrosya bickering comically over domestic chores. The combined effect brings to mind last year’s award-winning docu on monastic life, “Into Great Silence,” crossed with some jocular television DIY makeover show with a touch of “Big Brother.”

4. Variety reports that there are two remakes of the classic ’60s cult show The Prisoner in the works — one for film, one for TV:

AMC is remaking 1960s sci-fi cult fave “The Prisoner.”

Cabler has come aboard to co-produce at least six episodes — billed as a modern-day reimagining of the TV series classic — with U.K.’s Sky One. Granada Intl. also produces.

AMC’s is the second adaptation in the works. Universal Pictures has set helmer Christopher Nolan to direct a feature version that Janet and David Peoples are scripting (Daily Variety, Aug. 11).

U has the film rights to the skein, while Granada has separate television rights. Like the planned skein, bigscreen pic is said to be a contemporized take on the 1967 thriller.

5. The Hollywood Reporter, via Reuters, reports that El Crimen Perfecto director Álex de la Iglesia is now developing the English-language feature Think About Disney:

This will bring him back to the more familiar territory of demons, pacts with the devil, infidelity and insanity — but ramped up to the 10th power and in English.

Budgeted at about $15 million, “Disney” tells of a man who goes insane because he discovers the true essence of the world around him and lives a hell of his own creation. The only salvation he finds comes through thinking about cartoon characters.

Ah yes, I’ve had days like that. Very Sullivan’s Travels, too.

6. Speaking of Disney, Jim Hill reports that the studio is reverting to traditional 2-D animation under new animation chief John Lasseter, who wants to keep 3-D CGI for his Pixar crew.

7. Mark Steyn surveys classic Christmas movies — especially those with some sort of war theme — and New Year’s Eve movies.

8. Variety mentions in passing that Atlantic Overseas Pictures and EuroCo Prods. are “developing a $30 million action film, ‘Hunyadi: The Sword of God,’ centered on the 15th century general who protected Europe from invasion of Ottoman Turks.” One wonders what angle the film will take, given the current international scene and given the way Hollywood movies like Kingdom of Heaven (2005) have taken great pains to avoid offending Muslims.

9. Luther at the Movies is excited that Miramax is adapting John Patrick Shanley‘s play Doubt, which is set in a Catholic school.

10. The Hollywood Reporter looks at the rise in subtitled movies like Babel, Borat, Apocalypto and Letters from Iwo Jima:

Technological advances have made subtitles more palatable. As more theaters offer stadium seating, the old problem of the moviegoer in front of you blocking your view of the subtitles is eliminated. Filmmakers also are adopting an array of typefaces and colors that make subtitles easier to read; gone are the old days when shaky white lettering disappeared altogether whenever the color white dominated a scene.

Ultimately, movies probably have to thank TV for domesticating the subtitle. “Lost” and “Heroes,” two of the hottest series of the past few years, boast proudly multicultural casts, and both shows have featured extensive scenes in which their non-English-speaking characters converse in their native tongues. Similarly, the postapocalyptic drama “Jericho” features a deaf character, played by Shoshannah Stern, and when she argues with her brother Stan (Brad Beyer) in forceful American Sign Language, their dialogue is subtitled.

“Heroes” even has served up a twist on the traditional, bottom-of-the-screen placement of subtitles. When Japanese office workers Hiro and Ando are onscreen together, the show moves around the subtitles so they appear either below or beside the character who has just spoken. Suddenly, subtitles don’t look so foreign — they’re more like the dialogue bubbles in comic books. No wonder audiences don’t seem to fear them anymore.

For an example of moving subtitles, look also at the version of the Russian fantasy Night Watch released in English territories.

11. David Poland at The Hot Blog has some thoughts on the changing fortunes of movie musicals, such as Dreamgirls. He also looks at the film’s unusually large opening-day figures.

12. Two more items on Children of Men. First, the New York Times compares and contrasts the novel — and perhaps not surprisingly, the Times almost completely ignores the religious revisions:

No one should have to choose between Clive Owen and P. D. James. As an alcoholic, unshaven hero in a totalitarian near-future, Mr. Owen holds together the ominous yet vibrant new film “Children of Men,” adding to his list of brooding, darkly handsome characters (notably in “Closer”). But while this Alfonso Cuarón film is inspired by the 1992 James novel, the movie is so purely cinematic, and its plot departs so widely from the book’s, that the screen version may obscure how wonderfully rich and unlikely that novel is. . . .

When the film loses its energy for politics and its taste for ambiguity, that makes the difference between a good movie and an exceptional one. (There are lesser reasons; was it necessary for two characters actually to say, “Jesus Christ” when learning of the near-miraculous pregnancy and birth?)

The ending of the novel is brilliantly ambiguous and entirely different from the film’s, as the potential for the “intoxication of power” falls into unexpected hands. As Ms. James said in an interview when the book came out: “The detective novel affirms our belief in a rational universe because, at the end, the mystery is solved. In ‘The Children of Men’ there is no such comforting resolution.” It is comforting for both moviegoers and readers, though, to have Clive and P. D. as the season’s best odd couple.

Second, the Globe and Mail ran an interview with Cuarón over a week ago, which is now available to subscribers only:

Beset by racial intolerance, continental pandemics, rising international terrorism and environmental chaos, Cuaron’s fictitious world has managed to render itself infertile. Loosely based on the book by British mystery writer P.D. James, Cuaron says he uses global infertility as a metaphor for the fading sense of hope that he — and countless others — seem to be feeling these days.

“I used the book as a starting point to explore the state of things,” the director says.

“To explore the things that are shaping the first part of the 21st century. Many of the stories of the future involve something like ‘Big Brother.’ But I think that’s a 20th-century view of tyranny. The tyranny happening now is taking new guises. The tyranny of the 21st century is called ‘democracy.’ “

With Children of Men — due in theatres Dec. 25 — Cuaron has turned a cautionary tale into a chase film that revolves around a passive, almost clumsy hero named Theo Faron (Clive Owen) who has to save the last pregnant woman on the planet, a young woman named Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) who is a month away from giving birth.

Her unborn child represents the miracle the whole planet has been waiting for. Not surprisingly, the film is rife with religious and spiritual imagery, with Owen’s character representing a Moses/Joseph figure, Kee as Mary, and the unborn child as Jesus. And it’s no accident the film’s release date is Christmas day.

Cuaron’s world of the future is a wasteland inhabited by hollow people, crumbling buildings, depleted water supplies, rotting animal carcasses and heavy grey, polluted skies. It’s a planet ruined by religious war, he says, but he wanted to “embrace the spiritual archetypes more than the religious elements.”

Believe it or not, this does not exhaust the stories and links that I’ve been sitting on lately. There may be more later.

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