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Entries in Biblical Epics (11)

Monday
Apr222019

Podcast: Cannes + Oscar + Listener Questions

by Murtada Elfadl & Nathaniel R

 

With the weekend bringing so few movies to theaters we opted for an all listener questions episode of the podcast. You can listen to the podcast here at the bottom of the post or download from iTunesWe hope you enjoy our answers and provide some of your own in the comments.

So many good questions, thank you. Comment party in 3...2...1... Go! 

Listener Qs: Cannes, Oscar, More

Tuesday
Dec052017

49 days til Oscar nominations. The #1 film of '49 was...

by Nathaniel R

With 49 days left of fervent prayers from contenders hoping to be among The Chosen on January 23rd, is it any wonder that Samson & Delilah (1949) popped into mind... shortly before Blade Runner 2049 (This is how my brain works -- my deepest apologies).

Biblical movies were once favorites of Oscar voters, especially in the mid 20th century. One might call them the sci-fi blockbusters of the day in terms of both their audience popularity and their difficulty being truly respected outside of "craft" categories. Samson & Delilah was, according to Wikipedia, the year's biggest box office hit in 1949... though that makes little sense. Apparently it was only released in NYC in 1949 and then hit Los Angeles in 1950 to become Oscar eligible for the 1950 Oscars instead of the 49 Oscars...

Click to read more ...

Monday
Sep052016

"Colossal Spectacle!"

Happy Labor Day, all! To mark this occassion I will be working very hard today because I have much to accomplish before I leave for TIFF, the best film festival on the planet, according to me, for its ease, it's breadth, and the quality of its movies. Any big plans today, whether or not its Labor Day where you live?

On this day in history as it relates to the movies...

1916 One hundred years ago today the other über famous and influential D.W. Griffith epic, the one its OK to care about, opened. Intolerance, sometimes subtitled "love's struggle throughout the ages," was three and a half hours long and prominently advertised its then insane budget of $2,000,000. Wouldn't it be funny if today's movies were all "we cost $300,000,000 to make" (and all you get is a glossy commercial for merchandise / sequels)" on the posters? The epic stretched from Ancient Babylon through the Christ story and on to 1914 in its quartered parallel storylines to paint a morality story for audiences. The sick cosmic joke in retrospect was not that Griffith was apologizing for his own racist intolerance in The Birth of a Nation but offering a rebuke to people who he felt were intolerant to him because of that picture.

SIGH (Dir. Nathaniel R, running time ∞)

Other debuts on September 5th
Outlaw Jesse James who has been played by a gazillion actors, Old Hollywood titan Darryl F Zanuck, the inimitable prolific auteur Werner Herzog, charmed and outspoken Rose McGowan, Reigning Oscar good luck charm Michael Keaton (Birdman, Spotlight), Dan Gilroy's sick gripping Nightcrawler with Jake Gyllenhaal, 60s sex goddess and Myra Breckenridge herself Raquel Welch, Jack Kerouac's On the Road is published, Disney's pre-Mickey Mouse character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit premieres in his first short, one time Bond George Lazenby, and Black Book/Game of Thrones sensation Carice Van Houten.

And we'll close out our birthdays in history list with the iconic Freddie Mercury (remind me again why the Queen frontman STILL doesn't have a biopic?). This music video was chosen because it felt like something D.W. Griffith would approve of in all its "subtlety" and largesse...

Happy birthday / anniversary to all!

Wednesday
Apr012015

Flow It Show It Long As Hugh Can Grow It

Jason from MNPP here - you know who Hugh Jackman should play? Hugh Jackman should play Samson from the Bible, because if there's anybody continually betrayed by long hair it's him. Think upon the disaster that was Van Helsing (better yet, never think of Van Helsing ever again) or that mullet in Chappie, and then there's the years-long life-swallowing mess that was The Fountain (although I'll grant you the latter turned out interesting in the end) - it seems that we want our Hugh Jackman business on both ends (give or take the muttonchops) or not at all!

This is what today's news that Hugh will be playing Apostle Paul (as in Jesus Christ's best brah) made me think of, anyway. Matt Damon & Ben Affleck are both producing the film via their production company; there's no director attached yet. But back to the 'do and don'ts -- maybe they can go ahistorical and give the Saint-to-be a good high fade? Or Paul was half-Roman, maybe give him a respectable Caesar? Hey, George Clooney made it work. All I'm saying is think through the hair on your head, Hugh. A beard is fine though - we all know you're super good with beards.

Thursday
Nov202014

Interview: Patti Smith Doesn't Want Her Own Biopic!

What becomes a legend most? Not the biopics we see each year at the movies, Patti Smith suggests to me. We were meeting to talk about her first Original Song for a film, "Mercy Is" from this spring's $100 million hit Noah when the conversation veered into her own status as a showbiz legend, the godmother of punk. She shudders when I wonder aloud if anyone will make ever make a movie of her best-selling memoir "Just Kids" which recounts her storied relationship with fellow artist Robert Mapplethorpe. Though she's undoubtedly been interviewed thousands of times by now in her forty years of stardom, and she questions (indirectly) the whole point of the star profile and the interviewing process  -- 'if you really want to know me, it's all there in the work' -- she is a patient and warm interview. She instantly recalls the old massive paraphenalia that journalists used to bring into the room to record with when she sees my tiny electronic device and she's eager to talk Noah, a project she felt immediately taken with when Darren Aronofsky first told her about his plans for it at the Venice Film Festival years ago. 

Patti Smith at a recent concert in Iceland

NATHANIEL: Movies aren’t something you've spent a lot of time with in your legendary career. Did you know Aronofsky’s work well before writing the song for Noah?

PATTI SMITH: Yes. I love the one with Rachel Weisz, The Fountain. And Pi. I saw Black Swan a couple of times and we talked about Black Swan as a metaphor for the artist process and things like that. But it was not so much Darren as the subject.

Nathaniel: But you’ve been asked about religion before in your career and you’ve called it ‘man-made dogma’ so why do a Biblical film?

PATTI SMITH: Well, I love the Bible. Just because I’ve extricated myself from religion doesn’t mean I’m not interested in the scriptures. I look at the Bible as itself. It’s a holy book, it has incredible literature in it and beautiful poetry - the Songs of Solomon and the Psalms. I studied the Bible seriously until I was young teenager. It was always part of our home education: talking about the Bible, arguing about the Bible, interpreting it. So I don’t connect prayer or scriptures with any particular religion so it’s not a contradiction in my life. [more...]

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Jul242014

Tim's Toons: The voice of Sandra Bullock

Tim here. The mission statement of this column is “something to do with animation” (I suck at writing mission statements), which would seemingly preclude me from taking part in Celebrating Sandra Week here at the Film Experience.

But wait! As it turns out, there was exactly one time that Sandra Bullock voiced an animated character, in 1998’s The Prince of Egypt (as opposed to Gravity, where she was the only thing onscreen that wasn’t animated).

An adaptation of the Biblical story of Exodus, this was only the second film ever released by DreamWorks Animation (after 16 years, it remains one of their best). It was also the second DreamWorks film to favor a voice cast chosen for marquee value over skills in voice acting, building on a tradition that the studio would proudly continue for the rest of its existence. And in this case, it continues the longstanding Hollywood habit of populating stories from Hebraic scripture almost exclusive with non-Jews: Jeff Goldblum is the sole Jewish lead in a film whose voice cast includes Val Kilmer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Patrick Stewart, and Ralph Fiennes (the latter two aren’t playing ancient Hebrews, at least), alongside Bullock, one of the most famous subjects of the “Is she Jewish? I guess not” game of all time.

More to the point, that list of people includes nobody other than Stewart and Goldblum whose voice is so obviously distinctive that they’d necessarily make sense to put into an animated movie, but that’s DreamWorks for you. Among such company, Bullock doesn’t stand out as particularly grating or out-of-place (apologies to Nathaniel, but Pfeiffer pretty effortlessly takes Worst in Show, as far as that goes). In fact, watching the film for the first time with a particular ear for Bullock’s work, I’d go so far as to call her one of thebest members of the cast. Compared to Kilmer’s generic mid-Americanisms in the lead role, it doesn’t take all that much for anybody to stand out in the cast, of course, but Bullock is especially noteworthy in that she has the exact same liability as Kilmer – a voice carefully trained to sound like it comes from absolutely nowhere in particular, but probably Ohio-ish – and still manages to shade her line readings just enough to suggest a kind of formal pre-modern attitude, something that none of the other Americans in the cast ever really manage.

That being said, she has hardly any time to make an impression, with a role whose brevity is matched only by Helen Mirren’s (so, not an actressexual-friendly movie, basically). Bullock’s own unenthusiastic description from the officially sanctioned making-of featurette of 1998 is that her character, Moses’s biological sister Miram, “is sort of the believer, the one who holds on to the faith… She helps her brother cross over, and see where he came from.” And if that sounds like a stock character who gets nothing interesting to do, that’s because it’s exactly what she is (she’s also the lead singer of the Oscar-nominated song “When You Believe”, but Bullock didn’t do her own singing).

Still, she puts some heart into it, and a lot of earnestness, and it’s enough to put the character over as a real personality, even if she’s a bit one-note in her “Moses! Are you gonna lead the chosen people yet?” characterization.

It’s more then Goldblum doing Goldblum in ancient Egypt can claim. It’s a lot more than Martin Short and Steve Martin doing nothing at all but cashing checks can claim. The problem with the DreamWorks casting trend (that has since infected virtually all animated filmmaking in America, not just that studio) is that movie stars typically look more interesting than they sound, as true for the bulk of The Prince of Egypt as anything in the Shreks or the abysmal casting of Brad Pitt as the white-breadiest Sinbad in film history. And by all rights, it should apply to Bullock as much as anybody; but she pushes herself just enough to make sure that doesn’t happen. It’s a largely unimaginative performance of a role that means only a little bit to the movie as a whole, but she manages to make a real impression, and given what she was working with, that’s a real, if small triumph.

more Sandra | more from Tim