April 1, 2016
After Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice made $420 million opening weekend, Hollywood is looking to generate the same kind of financial success in the Christian/Bible genre. “Despite mixed reviews from critics, Risen, Exodus: Gods and Kings, and Noah have captured people’s attention” says Kevin Reynolds, director of Waterworld and 2016’s Easter-themed Risen. “People are curious about the Bible and the history of Christianity. They want a fresh take on spirituality in ways only Hollywood can provide: 100-million-dollar epics full of white-washed casts, historically inaccurate costumes, and bone-crunching action scenes.” Darren Aronofsky, writer/director of Noah, added “why read a book when you can watch an award-winning director re-envision your favorite Bible stories into a contemporary political agenda starring Robin Hood and Batman?”
This next take on Christian History by Kevin Reynolds (Risen, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Waterworld) will be a historical drama about the life of Martin Luther and the beginning of the Reformation. “Batman v. Superman reveals that people want to see heroes fight. They want to see idealism in a darker light. They want to see chinks in the armor… What better place to see conflict and corruption than in the struggle between Catholic and Protestant in the Reformation? You’ve got war, conspiracy, scandal, execution, subterfuge, a priest marrying a nun… there’s something for everyone.”
Martin Luther vs. Pope Leo X: Dawn of the Reformation will open with the Roman catholic church trying to raise money through the melodramatic John Tetzel. Tetzel put on dramatic plays about the fires of hell and the torment of Purgatory, inspiring people to buy indulgences. If one bought an indulgence (“donated money to the church”), they were forgiven of past, present, or even future sin. Many donated money in order to reduce time in purgatory for themselves and their loved ones. According to Luther, “the pope had a finger in the pie as well,” because half the money went to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
When Martin Luther heard about John Tetzel’s tactics, he was furious. He openly challenged the sale of indulgences, arguing that God alone can forgive sin. Luther wrote his famous 95 Theses in condemnation of these corrupt practices and nailed it to the church door. “Luther believes the system has become corrupt and publicly challenges Pope Leo X to fix it.”
Luther’s friends printed the 95 Thesis and within two months copies had spread all across Europe. “If it wasn’t for Gutenberg’s printing press, Luther probably would’ve been executed as ‘just another heretic’ like John Huss. But now the common people had the opportunity to hear Luther and agreed with him.” Pope Leo X sent an official order (a papal bull) to Luther, threatening him with excommunication if Luther did not recant and destroy his writings. Luther burned it.
Luther is given a trial, the famous Diet of Worms, where he defended himself against the church and government authorities. “This is the Batman v Superman moment right here. Will Luther give in and recant? Will David shrink in the face of Goliath? Or, will he stand up to the Pope and be executed?” When ordered to recant, Luther gave this statement:
Luther escapes his execution and eventually creates the Protestant church. “Just like Superman v. Batman: Dawn of Justice introduced all these heroes like Wonder Woman, Flash, etc., we want to introduce Reformation heroes. You’re going to see John Calvin. You’re going to see Zwingli. Dawn of the Reformation is going to be awesome.”
“Just like every Bible epic needs a big battle at the end, we’re going to have a war, too” Kevin Reynolds insists. “Luther sparks the Great Peasants’ Revolt, where the people rose up against their oppressors.” In reality, Luther was opposed to the peasants revolt and spoke against their rebellion. Reynolds has other ideas for the film. “We think Luther should be on the side of the revolt, standing with the common man against the tyrants of his day. I can’t think of a better ending than Martin Luther riding into battle against the Pope!”
“Martin Luther v. Pope Leo X: Dawn of the Reformation is a movie everyone needs to see. It reminds us that power has a corrosive effect on human beings. Many institutions start out as good but become corrupt over time, even the church. Sometimes “being aware” of problems isn’t enough. Publicly voicing our concern isn’t enough. We have to challenge corruption head on and reform it. We can’t afford to sit back and hope that someone else does something about it.”
April 1, 2014
I am a huge Star Wars fan. One of my earliest memories is of watching Luke Skywalker fight the Rancor in Return of the Jedi. I spent years collecting Star Wars ships, fighting with plastic lightsabers, and reading the “Expanded Universe” books. I remember when my friend Mike and I sewed our very own Jedi cloaks to wear to the midnight release of Revenge of the Sith. I even downloaded the Star Wars: Holiday Special and watched it with my friends. In one particularly ambitious year of middle school, my friend Brandon and I decided to make our very own stop-action Star Wars movie. (Not my proudest moment, I assure you.)
When a sequel Star Wars trilogy was announced, many fans hoped J.J. Abrams would base them on the massively successful Thrawn trilogy, or my personal favorite, the Jedi Academy trilogy. (Pictured above)
I saw a major problem with this from the beginning. These books take place only six years after Return of the Jedi, but the actors have aged 30 years since then. Too much time has passed for a convincing story about Han and Leia trying to raise three boisterous kids and Luke Skywalker recruiting new Jedi Knights. We needed some fresh ideas.
J.J. Abrams announced that Star Wars VII would be a completely original story, but until now he has given very few details.
Interview copy and pasted below:
I: Tell me about the biggest challenge your team faces in making a new Star Wars trilogy.
Abrams: There’s been a lot of challenges. I think the biggest one is making Star Wars accessible and exciting for new people that’ve never seen it before. I’m really excited about Harrison, Carrie, and Mark coming back to do this again. I have a hunger for what I love about Star Wars and want to see, and I bet a lot of other people my age feel the same way. But after having talks with Disney, I’ve realized that we have to reach a whole new generation of kids that didn’t grow up with Star Wars. To them its something old and outdated that their parents watch.
I: Really? I thought kids loved Star Wars.
Abrams: Well, the prequels tried to appeal to kids and failed miserably. Just terribly. They used cheap tricks like Jar Jar Binks and went after little kids instead of grabbing teenagers. Disney has done a ton of research on this. If you want a movie to have mass appeal, go after teenagers.
I: Isn’t that kind of… gimmicky?
Abrams: Sometimes, but it doesn’t have to be. Its about building an excitement around something new that will grab young adults and give them the same thrill I had when Empire Strikes Back came out in the 80’s. Most of my work has been for television or PG-13 films, and it proves that you can reach a lot of people by keeping things appropriate for teenagers.
I: So how has targeting teenagers changed your approach?
Abrams: It means building an excitement around new questions and interests. The questions of identity and destiny as still there, of course, but there’s more drama around romance and loyalty. That’s a big change. In the original trilogy, loyalty was completely assumed. You were loyal to your family and obligated to fight in the battle of good vs. evil. It was Luke’s loyalty that eventually redeemed his father, Darth Vader. In our new culture, loyalty is something you choose to have, it isn’t given to you, so to speak… its not an obligation.
I: How will that concept of loyalty play out in Star Wars VII? Will Luke’s loyalty carry on?
Abrams: Luke definitely has a role to play, but he is passing off the torch to a new generation. Its about Luke’s kids and Chewbacca’s kids finding their identity and loyalty in the new crisis.
I: Chewbacca has kids?
Abrams: Oh yeah. (laughs) Even though we’re creating an entirely new story, we got ideas from the Expanded Universe books, and even the infamous Star Wars: Holiday Special. I liked the idea of Chewbacca having a son. Luke has a daughter, Reina Skywalker, whose this new Jedi Knight trying to prove herself. And her best friend is Waroo, who is a half-wookiee.
I: Wait, a half-wookiee? I didn’t know those existed!
Abrams: Its Star Wars, anything can happen. (laughs)
I: What happens with these two?
Abrams: So Luke has established a small order of Jedi Knights, and they get into a fight with a new alien race, the Chiss. Leia and Han and Luke go to the Chiss homeworld in hopes of stopping a war, and that’s really what kicks off the new trilogy. The adults are trying to prevent another war like the one they had to fight, but their kids realize that there’s something darker going on at the Chiss homeworld.
I: What excites you about this story-line?
Abrams: I like the ambiguity behind the characters. They really struggle with their identity and loyalty. Reina is this brand new Jedi Knight trying to fill some pretty big shoes left behind by her dad, Luke Skywalker. Then she has this romance with Waroo, who is caught between being a human and a wookiee. They have so much in common, but there’s a tension there too. Especially when they get caught behind enemy lines and meet Jaylen.
I: Who is Jaylen?
Abrams: I probably shouldn’t say… Well, the first trailer will reveal it anyway. (laughs) Jaylen is a loner on the planet Chiss who turns out to be a teenage clone of Darth Maul.
I: Like from Episode I? Why did you decide to bring him back as a villain?
Abrams: Oh, he’s not really a villain. I know it sounds quirky, but he’s the perfect fit. We needed a character who brought ancient darkness to the screen and tied us back to the Sith from the previous series. When the Emperor and Darth Vader died at the end of Return of the Jedi, there were no more Sith. They were gone, and we needed a way to bring them back. We also realized that despite having millions of them, Star Wars never really dealt with a clone as a serious character. Jaylen knows he’s a clone of this incredibly dark and evil Sith Lord, but does that mean he’s destined to kill Jedi? Does he have a choice in his own fate? What if he decides to join Reina instead?
I: So is that the question of destiny you were talking about?
Abrams: That’s what this movie is about: destiny and freewill. Its about having to trust someone and give them the freedom to make their own destiny, even though there’s a chance they might try to kill you later. (laughs) Both Anakin and Luke had to deal with the question “am I destined to join the dark side?” Jaylen is a very dark and conflicted character, I think he will add a lot to the saga.
I: Do you think this take will appeal to new fans?
Abrams: Absolutely. People love tension and relationship triangles. The original series had Luke, Han, and Leia. Here we have a very strong half-wookiee who trusts his warrior instincts, a darker and edgier clone who is questioning his destiny, and a Jedi Knight who loves them both. It forces Reina to decide between Waroo and Jaylen. In a sense its a much more ambiguous and muddy choice between light and dark, she doesn’t know where it will lead.
I: Wait, are you saying this is a love triangle between Luke’s daughter, a half-wookiee, and a Sith clone?
Abrams: Its not really a love triangle. At least, not right away. The plot is racing along, and it builds to a point where Reina has to choose a side. She can either go with Waroo and the life she’s grown up with, or she can trust Jaylen’s insight into solving the conspiracy and hope he doesn’t become a Sith.
I: Have you auditioned anyone?
Abrams: Oh, I’ve seen hundreds of auditions. Hundreds. (laughs) We auditioned Saoirse Ronan for Reina Skywalker and she was fantastic. I’m really excited about working with her on the project.
I: Okay, last question, what are you most excited about?
Abrams: Working with John Williams.
End interview, link to entire article here.
What do you think? Can J.J. Abrams pull this off?
Zack Snyder (director of 300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch, and the upcoming Man of Steel) has begun talking about his next project. Searching for another success like the historical epic 300, he’s landed on an unusual choice: the Bible story of Samson. Zack Snyder is certainly a talented director, (see our Sucker Punch review here) but he seems to get caught up in style over substance. I know that Samson certainly has potential as a great action film, but how will Snyder handle the spiritual aspect of the story? – Zack’s not the most articulate director around but he gives us a pretty good idea of what this’ll look like. – So, fingers crossed, and hope for the best!
Interview copy and pasted below:
I: Why Samson?
Snyder: Well, I’ve been wanting to do another historical film, like I did with 300. But not something that’d been done before.
I: Not done before?
Snyder: Oh, you know, like Alexander the Great, King Arthur, gladiators… Everybody has done that stuff. With 300 and Watchmen, I was taking something familiar but had never been made into a film. So towards the end of Man of Steel, I was asking around about something that hadn’t been, well, something that was well known but at the same time hadn’t really been done before.
I: You wanted something fresh.
Snyder: Exactly. Like, 300 was a story that was powerful, historically, but wasn’t something like Robin Hood that’d been done so many times in so many sh*tty ways that there aren’t any surprises left. Not to be mean to Russell Crowe, or anything. I mean, they tried.
I: What excites you about the project?
Snyder: There was work to do on Samson, but I was struck by the story. It was surprisingly dark and dynamic. I mean, here’s a guy that little kids learn about in like, Church and stuff, right? And he’s totally not a hero! Samson’s life is all about violence, sex, betrayal… I mean, there’s a reason Disney hasn’t done it. (laughs)
I: What did you like about it?
Snyder: I saw a lot of tension in the character. He spends his whole life struggling with his destiny. There’s this struggle between who people expect Samson to be and what he actually does. I mean, Samson is supposed to be Israel’s hero, someone to really look up to, y’know? But Samson refuses to fight on anyone else’s terms. Then after the Philistines kill his wife, the dude just snaps and kills a bunch of people.
I: How will you handle Delilah?
Snyder: Delilah is a great character. She’s cunning and intelligent, and he keeps falling for her tricks. I mean, Delilah loves Samson, she sees him as invincible, but she’s totally taking advantage of him at the same time. The irony around them is great.
I: Do you have casting ideas?
Snyder: Y’know, casting has been tough on this one. A lot of people have come up and said “this would be perfect for Gerard Butler.” And, Gerry is a great actor, but he’s too refined for the role. I needed someone rougher, and physically massive. I mean, this guy has to kill a thousand philistines in one afternoon. (laughs)
I: Have you officially cast anyone?
Snyder: Officially, no. But we’re in final talks with Dwayne Johnson about the role.
I: You mean, “The Rock?”
Snyder: (laughs) Y’know, Dwayne has done a lot of sh*tty movies in the past. But he’s really matured as an actor and I think he’s ready for more serious stuff. I needed someone who could really be believable as this conflicted, tortured antihero whose supernatural strength has made him an outcast. I mean, the guy rips a lion in half. You’ve gotta cast someone believable in that role or the audience will just die laughing. So, yeah, I think Dwayne will be great.
I: What about Delilah?
Snyder: I loved working with Abbie Cornish on Sucker Punch. She works very hard, very dedicated… and will wear any costume you ask her to. (laughs) No, seriously, I see Delilah being this sweet and sensual character, but having a darker side to her too. I know Abbie can handle the role.
I: So, you’re doing this big, rated-R epic of a Bible story.
Snyder: (laughs) Yeah.
I: I’m thinking… well, why Samson now? Does it have any relevance for modern audiences?
Snyder: Oh, I think its totally relevant. Everyone’s… well, Christian or not, everyone is always talking about “what God wants them to do.” Politicians are talking about it, the Middle East is talking about it, and I just keep asking myself… “how do they know?” Y’know, seriously? How can God be telling one guy this thing, and another guy this totally different thing? And why does it usually involve killing the other person? How does anyone know what God wants them to do? And, y’know… I think that’s really similar to Samson’s story. Here’s this guy who is on a mission from God, right? To fight the bad guys, the… the Philistines. And he’s even given this super-strength to do it. But Samson doesn’t want to fight the Philistines, he wants peace. I mean, he marries a Philistine girl, right? And then its not until they trick him and kill his wife that Samson starts beating up on the Philistines. And even then, Samson’s not killing Philistines because God told him to, he is killing Philistines out of revenge. So, he’s a very interesting character.
I: So how do you see that playing out in the film?
Snyder: Well, I see a lot of conflict in Samson. He has a lot of human emotion. In the end, he’s fighting the Philistines like just God told him to, but its not… well, its not necessarily because God told him to, its because of this very real and deep need for vengeance. For revenge. That’s very human. In a sense he’s sort of obeying and defying his God at the same time. And that’s very interesting to me… That kind of conflict between a divine order and a human emotion.
I: Last question. What’re you most looking forward to?
Snyder: Ah, easy. Samson killing a thousand dudes with the jawbone of an ass.
What do you think? Can Zack Snyder bring an interesting (and faithful) adaptation of Samson to the big screen? Let us know in the comments!
April 19, 2012
Marvel Studios has been building up to The Avengers film for five years. Summer of 2008 introduced us to Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, followed by Iron Man 2 in 2010, and finally Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger in 2011. Each film has built upon the other, introducing SHIELD, Nick Fury, and building up to a confrontation so big that all the big heroes will be called into the spotlight. Never before have so many famous actors, directors, distributors, etc. collaborated under one roof in order to put on something this big. Robert Downey Jr. said it well: “this is the most ambitious movie ever made.”
As we countdown to May 4th, we’ll be posting reviews coinciding with the buildup to The Avengers film. If you haven’t gotten the chance to see one of them, we highly recommend you do! – Enjoy!
March 30, 2012
Congress is at it again.
April Fool’s Day is a time honored tradition, and the advent of the world-wide-web has blossomed this mischievous day into a cornucopia of fake articles, phony products, too-good-to-be-true coupons, and good old fashioned pranks. But its all in good fun, right?
Congress doesn’t think so. Apparently over the past few years, April Fool’s jokes have been getting out of hand.
Ever seen a fake advertisement for $10 iPods, or $25 Kindles? 3D iPads? – I’ve used them to trick naive roommates, but apparently fake ads like these can have a significant impact on web revenue. Major online stores like Wal-Mart, Amazon, and Apple.com have all reported a 40-70% drop in online sales on April 1st. They claim that false-advertising leads gullible customers into attempting to order products that do not exist or trying to us invalid coupons. This results in huge customer dissatisfaction (which totally swamps those poor customer service guys in India) and customers simply refusing to purchase anything online on April 1st. Apparently, the catch-phrase “Happy Don’t-Trust-the-Internet Day!” doesn’t exactly help the online market.
That sounded like a stretch to me, but then I remembered all the crazy products I’ve seen on the internet.
There’s a long history of websites like ThinkGeek.com making up bogus products for April Fool’s. One of my favorites was the Star Wars Tauntaun sleeping bag, which became so popular that they made the product for real.
There’s something charming about a good April Fool’s joke like this. You get a good laugh, a warm feeling of nostalgia because Star Wars is awesome, and admit it, who wouldn’t want a Tauntaun sleeping-bag as a kid? And then the website responds to fan-demands and decides to make the product for real?! – With all this heart, I’m surprised this hasn’t been made into a Lifetime movie yet.
But other products haven’t been so innocent.
On April 1st, 2010, ThinkGeek.com posted a fake product for sale, “Canned Unicorn Meat: The New White Meat” (See their original post, here.) The ad boasted “No foolin’ – Unicorn meat is real!” and a comical history of old Unicorns who are killed and canned in Ireland. Customers who actually purchased the product got an authentic can (pictured above) and a stuffed unicorn (dismembered, of course). The post is CLEARLY a joke made for sheer entertainment value. But the catchphrase “The New White Meat” got them in trouble with a certain Pork company who was already using a similar slogan “PORK: THE OTHER WHITE MEAT.”
A month later, ThinkGeek, Inc. received a 12-page CEASE AND DESIST from Faegre & Benson, claiming that the canned Unicorn was infringing on their copyrights. You can read all about it here, and here. The idea that this was all a joke was completely lost on them. Happy “Don’t Trust The Internet” Day, indeed.
This isn’t the only example of April Fool’s Jokes going awry due to legal issues, and many have been taken down due to similar cease and desist letters. Couple these examples with the massive blow online stores (like Amazon) take every April 1st, and there was bound to be trouble.
Enter, the Government.
From the folks who brought you SOPA/PIPA, meet AESOP (Action to Eradicate and Stop Online Parodies). But unlike the wise and ancient storyteller, AESOP seems to miss the point entirely. This new bill on the block will allow companies to sue internet pranksters for infringing on their copyrighted material. – Doesn’t sound too bad at first glance, but think about that for a minute. What happens to a world when parody is no longer safe? Isn’t parody essential to our comprehension of pop-culture, politics, and the free-market? And what would the legal limits be? Could a parody about e-books be sued by Amazon because it was clearly referencing the Kindle? What if I wrote a moralistic fable exposing the evils of mega corporations, could I be sued by Wal-Mart? Or Apple?
Similar to SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act), the real danger is in AESOP’s use of vague language. Writers who were previously protected under parody-laws could soon be at the mercy of billion-dollar corporations who’ve been nursing grudges for years. AESOP would allow any business to sue for causing “harm to online or store revenue” and/or “damage to public integrity through unwarranted traducement.” In plain English: ‘If we think your joke hurt our income or made us look bad, we’re coming for you.’
I’m not against Wal-Mart taking down some frat-boys who Photoshopped a coupon for $25 HDTV’s and handed them out in the University cafeteria (true story). But chasing down April Fool’s pranksters for perceived damage to their store’s income or reputation is ridiculous. Maybe people are simply too busy reading all the funny April Fool’s jokes to go out and buy a new iPad. Have you thought of that, Wal-Mart?
And what about television? – Could South Park, The Simpson’s, Saturday Night Live, and any number of parody-fueled shows be taken to court?
Movie producers often comment about how frustrating April 1st is to the film industry. If audiences hear about a (fake) movie that they really want to see, they’re less likely to spend money on real movies that are currently in theaters. Could a crappy movie like Mirror, Mirror or Wrath of the Titans blame its low box office numbers on April Fool’s posts promising Halo:The Movie and Inception 2?
In all seriousness, AESOP is clearly unconstitutional, if not morally reprehensible. I can’t imagine a world without the free speech of internet jokes and parody. Undoubtedly, this will be met with an incredible amount of opposition. But with the resources Wal-Mart, Amazon, Apple, etc. have to put behind this? … I’m not going to hold my breath. Finally, I find it ironic that Congress chose the name “Aesop”. Is it an intentional reference to the witty and moral Aesop’s Fables? Intentional or not, the whole thing makes me sick to my stomach. One day I’m writing a joke about George Lucas, and the next I’m just trying not to drop the soap? – Yikes.
So, be careful, April Fool’s pranksters. Your days are numbered.
July 19, 2011
For those of us who haven’t made it to Harry Potter yet, we missed an exciting bit of news. The teaser for Christopher Nolan’s conclusion of his Batman trilogy doesn’t show much, but it doesn’t have to. It has several shots from the previous films, a monologue from Commissioner Gordon, and a startling image of Bane (played by Tom Hardy). My first reaction to Bane’s reimagined mask was a belligerent what is that dorky thing!? But as Heath Ledger’s performance taught me last time: hold your complaints until you see the movie. Because if anyone knows what they’re doing, its Christopher-freakin-Nolan.
Check out the trailer:
I’m feeling a little nostalgic. Time to read the Batman: Knightfall storyarc again.