A lot can happen in a year or two. Take the case of Bella, an independent film that has been heavily promoted to Christian groups as a ‘prolife’ film.
When it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2006 – winning the People’s Choice Award, no less – this gentle and unassuming film, produced by Mexican Catholics in New York City, may have seemed poised to become a still, small voice for the unborn in the secular movie marketplace.
But by the time it was released to U.S. theatres last autumn, the culture had been debating the significance of unplanned-pregnancy films like Waitress and Knocked Up for months – and the Oscar-fated Juno was just around the corner. With a subtler storyline and a smaller audience, Bella more or less got lost in the shuffle.
Several months later, Bella might seem even further behind the curve now, but it’s still worth seeing when it comes to Canadian theatres some time this month.
Surprisingly, given the hype around its ‘prolife’ theme, the film doesn’t really tackle the issue of abortion. Instead, it presents a reasonably touching story about a man with a wounded soul who reaches out to a woman in trouble as much for his own sake as for hers or that of her unborn child. The story is motivated by its characters, that is, rather than an agenda, and that’s fine by me.
Speaking of abortion-themed movies, the gritty and unflinching Romanian film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days – my pick for last year’s best film – returns to the VanCity Theatre for a week-long engagement April 2 – 9.
Check vifc.org for details.
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Billy Graham has appeared in many movies, most of them produced by his own ministry; but as far as I can tell, no one has ever played him before, apart from the odd parody. That may soon change, however, since a movie called Billy: The Early Years was set to start shooting in Nashville late last month.
Only one casting announcement has been made so far – and it’s a head-scratcher. The 83 year old Hal Holbrook, who was nominated for an Oscar for his fine work in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild, is going to play Charles Templeton, a Canadian mentor of Graham’s only three years his senior – who became an agnostic in 1957, and wrote a book in 1995, at age 80, called Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith.
The filmmakers have spoken fairly reverently of Graham so far, so it is unclear how the older, doubting Templeton will be worked into their script. Director Robby Benson told The Tennessean the film would take place between the 1930s and 1950s, so presumably it may be told as a series of flashbacks.
But from what angle? Will the older, doubting Templeton deepen the story, or get in the way of it somehow?
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Rachel Weisz will play Hypatia – a famous 4th century Alexandrian philosopher and mathematician who was killed by a mob of Christians – in Agora, a historical drama written and directed by Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Amenábar. His previous efforts include the ghost story, The Others; and the pro-euthanasia biopic, The Sea Within.
The story will concern a slave of Hypatia’s who is torn between love for his mistress and the possibility of freedom if he converts to Christianity. Given the director’s track record, I don’t have high hopes for the film’s portrayal of the early church, but I am very intrigued to hear that Oscar Isaac will play the imperial prefect Orestes, who has an unrequited love for Hypatia.
Isaac was easily the best thing about The Nativity Story, in which he played Joseph. He was very thoughtful and articulate when I met him on the junket for that film; I look forward to seeing him on the big screen again.
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A few issues ago, I mentioned that producer Judd Apatow (Knocked Up) and director Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day) were developing a mysterious ‘biblical comedy’ called Year One. Since then, a little more information has leaked out. Hank Azaria, one of the voice actors on The Simpsons, is going to play Abraham; and The O.C.’s Olivia Wilde will play Princess Inanna of Sodom – yes, that Sodom.
And what is the film about? Here is how Wilde described it on the MTV Movies Blog:
“Michael Cera and Jack Black go on this journey, and they are searching for the meaning of life, essentially; all these crazy things happen to them, and they meet all these characters you’ll recognize from the Bible. It’s all these brilliant references to historical things that people will recognize, and some things from other films.”