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Hollywood & Religion: More Controversy To Come If New Films Anger The Faithful

Mike Fleming

Easter Sunday seems an appropriate time to focus on Hollywood’s treatment of the subject matter of religion. When it comes to making movies from various Biblical interpretations, conventional wisdom says stick close to scripture and the faithful will flock. Mel Gibson hewed closely to the New Testament with 2004′s The Passion of the Christ and the film grossed over $600 million worldwide to become the largest independent film of its day and the top-grossing non-English language film ever. But veering from that strategy can do more than alienate that audience segment as Universal Pictures found out when Martin Scorsese filmed 1988′s controversial and in some eyes blasphemous The Last Temptation of Christ from Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel and angry protesters were dragging crosses in front of the home of MCA Universal head Lew Wasserman. Have things changed since then?

Several filmmakers hope so because they are making movies that challenge faith tradions. These projects are very different from, say, big projects that include Fox’s stylized retelling of Moses leading the Israelite exodus out of Egypt, or Bedrock Films’ $30 million 3D reimagining of the story of creation as depicted in the Book of Genesis. But all of the following daring projects can take encouragement from The Book Of Mormon, the first Broadway musical by South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker who teamed with Robert Lopez on the skewed look at the Mormon faithful. The result is a smash hit Tony Awards contender playing … Read More »

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The Biggest ‘Simpsons’ Fans: Pot Dealers And The Pope

By | Wednesday October 20, 2010 @ 12:10am PDT
Nellie Andreeva

If you are one of the biggest shows in the world you are guaranteed a fair share of bizarre stories. But 2 within 24 hours? That’s what happened to Fox’s animated veteran The Simpsons. First the official Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano on Sunday ran an article headlined Homer and Bart are Catholics. What is more weird than the Pope’s home paper devoting a whole article to proving Homer is a Catholic (which he is not)? The paper actually running 2 pieces on The Simpsons in the past 9 months. Osservatore Romano also ran a glowing story about the Fox family comedy last December, calling it “tender and irreverent, scandalous and ironic, boisterous and profound, philosophical and sometimes even theological.” Only hours after the Vatican article came out, Mexican authorities on Monday morning seized 105 tons of marijuana worth $340 million in what is believed to be one of the largest drug busts in recent history. The 10,000 packages were organized in batches with different color-coded wrappers for the different distributors. One wrapper had Homer Simpson on it and a slogan in Spanish that reads: “I’m going to get high, dude!” Read More »

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Actor Sacked By ABC For Religious Beliefs Finds Home On Starz As ‘Vigilante Priest’

By | Thursday August 12, 2010 @ 6:47pm PDT

I wrote about actor Neal McDonough’s trouble with ABC back in March and received one of the biggest responses ever to a story because he was standing up for his religious beliefs. You may recall the post (No Sex Please, I’m Neal McDonough): how he was suddenly replaced 3 days into the filming on the ABC series Scoundrels in a move officially explained as a casting change. But, in fact, McDonough was sacked because of his refusal to do some heated love scenes because he’s a family man and a Catholic, and he’s always made it clear that he won’t do sex scenes. And ABC knew that. Well, a lot of people who applauded Neal wanted to know what he’ll be doing next. Of course, he’s co-starring in Marvel’s Captain America movie currently shooting in London. But now I hear McDonough has co-created and will executive produce and star in VIGILANTE PRIEST, a one hour drama for Starz which is fast-tracking the project.

I hear the series was his own idea, and he will co-create it with Law & Order vet Walon Green who will also exec produce and write. John Avnet also will be executive producing and directing the pilot. McDonough will take on the title role: an ex-cop turned priest who is cleaning up the streets of Los Angeles “one sinner at a time”. I continue to applaud the Band Of Brothers and … Read More »

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Gerard Butler’s ‘Machine Gun Preacher’ Gets Start; Michelle Monaghan To Play Wife

By | Friday May 7, 2010 @ 4:11pm PDT
Mike Fleming

michelle_monaghan_hot_desktop_wallpaper_47986EXCLUSIVE: Back in January, I told you about the effort to mount Machine Gun Preacher, a fact-based drama directed by Marc  Forster. Gerard Butler was keen to play reformed bad guy Sam Childers, a drug-dealing biker who found God and became the scourge of rebel forces who kidnap children in the Sudan and Northern Uganda and force them to become sex slaves or child soldiers. Well, the film’s is now a reality, as Lionsgate has committed to be domestic distributor, and Mandate International handling foreign sales. Shooting starts this summer. Gerard_Butler

Michelle Monaghan has just committed to play Childers’ wife, Lynn, who cleaned up her own demons while Childers did a stretch behind bars, and struggled to keep their family together in Detroit while he went to Africa to establish an orphanage to house 300 children. He had to stay there and run an armed militia to protect the kids and thwart other kidnappings by rebels under the command of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army.

Michael Shannon is also in talks to join the film, playing a close friend of Childers who stayed with his wife while he was away in Africa. His character is pivotal in the plot.

Forster is producing with Robbie Brenner, Craig Chapman, Gary Safady and Debora Giarratana. Brad Simpson and Myles Nestel are executive producers. michael_shannon_2235157Safady (a real estate entrepreneur who … Read More »

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Time Square Bomb’s ‘South Park’ Link

By | Sunday May 2, 2010 @ 8:32pm PDT
Nellie Andreeva

Granted, it sounds ridiculous. But was the foiled Saturday car bombing attempt in Time Square a retaliation against Comedy Central for airing the infamous Mohammed arc on South Park? The theory, which stems from the the fact that the explosives-laden SUV was parked right next to the headquarters of Comedy Central’s parent company Viacom, quickly gained popularity Sunday, with no less than a New York Congressman — U.S. Rep. Peter King — among those who called the connection “a possibility.” Last month, a New York-based radical Muslim group threatened to kill South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker over the show’s depiction of Prophet Mohammed.

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‘ALL THE POPE’S PRIESTS’? Deal To Develop Catholic Church Scandal Film From POV Of Boston Globe Journalism Team

By | Friday April 30, 2010 @ 8:46am PDT
Mike Fleming

The producers intend to frame the movie in the vein of All The President’s Men. One of the planned film’s hooks is that some of the journalists are themselves Catholic and were conflicted as they researched and wrote their stories. This journalism angle seems a fascinating way to approach the topic. And, interestingly, the Boston Globe investigative team was headed by Ben Bradlee, Jr., son of the legendary Washington Post editor who stood behind Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein when their Watergate reporting was assailed by Richard Nixon’s White House.

The production companies Anonymous Content and Rocklin/Faust have made deals to develop the feature film about the Catholic Church’s decades-long cover-up of its pedophile priest scandal that rocked the New England faithful. The producers acquired the life rights of the Boston Globe “Spotlight Team” of reporters and editors who were part of the team that shared the Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for meritorious public service for their reporting. The year-long investigation by The Globe of the cover-up, which was initially denied by church officials, reverberated all the way to the Vatican. It culminated in the emotional resignation of Cardinal Law, who acknowledged mistakes that could have prevented some of the abuse from occurring. It also opened the floodgates for exposure of other Catholic Church molestation scandals in Canada, Ireland, Chile and elsewhere.

Journalists including Bradlee Jr., Michael Rezendes, Walter Robinson, Sacha Pfeiffer, Matt Carroll and Globe editor Marty Baron will cooperate with the film. Anonymous Content’s Steve Golin and Michael Sugar … Read More »

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DID COMEDY CENTRAL WUSS OUT? ‘South Park’ Defies Muslim Extremists But Prophet Muhammad Gets Censored; UPDATE: Matt & Trey Say “Can’t Stand Behind” Show

By | Thursday April 22, 2010 @ 10:54am PDT
Nellie Andreeva

UPDATE: Here is a statement from Matt and Trey:

TV South Park Muslims“In the 14 years we’ve been doing South Park we have never done a show that we couldn’t stand behind. We delivered our version of the show to Comedy Central and they made a determination to alter the episode. It wasn’t some meta-joke on our part. Comedy Central added the bleeps. In fact, Kyle’s customary final speech was about intimidation and fear. It didn’t mention Muhammad at all but it got bleeped too. We’ll be back next week with a whole new show about something completely different and we’ll see what happens to it.”

Comedy_Central_logo_svgPREVIOUS: South Park creators defied death threats from a radical Muslim group by continuing their Prophet Muhammad-themed storyline. But the network, wisely, took precaution by censoring Muhammad’s image and name. It’s not clear if that would appease the New York-based group Revolution Muslim, which posted a message on its website after last week’s 200th episode claiming that producers Trey Parker and Matt Stone had insulted their prophet by briefly showing him in a bear costume (any physical representation of the prophet is considered blasphemous by Islam) and threatening that they will “probably wind up like [Dutch filmmaker] Theo Van Gogh” who was murdered by Muslim extremists. Last night, the Muhammad character’s face was covered by a black box and the mention of his name … Read More »

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‘South Park’ Duo Hits 200th – And Broadway

By | Tuesday April 13, 2010 @ 5:56pm PDT
Mike Fleming

esq-parker-and-stone-lg-7683329It’s milestone time for South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Below is a video taste of tomorrow night’s 200th episode. They are set to make their Broadway debut in March on The Book Of Mormon, a stage musical. Parker and Stone wrote the book and music with Avenue Q’s Bobby Lopez and Parker will direct with Avenue Q’s Jason Moore. Scott Rudin is producing with Anne Garefino. The Broadway move comes as Comedy Central prepares to air the 200th episode of their irreverent comedy series.

The musical deals with two wide-eyed Mormon boys who go on a two-year mission to Third World countries and underprivileged communities, where they try to convert people to join the Mormon faith. After watching them lacerate scores of notable celebrity and faith–every star skewered in the 14 seasons of South Park appear in tomorrow’s 200th episode–my instinct is to fear for the Mormon faithful. Insiders describe the musical as highly subversive and satiric, but with a generous spirit. The theater hasn’t yet been named, but financing is in place and the musical is fully formed after being run through three workshops.

Rudin was producer and Garefino was executive producer on the 2004 feature Team America: World Police, the puppet film that was written by the South Park duo and directed by Parker. While they were making the film, Rudin suggested that Parker and Stone see Avenue Q, the Tony-winning musical that is also done … Read More »

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God Stars In 3D Book Of Genesis Bible Tale

By | Monday March 8, 2010 @ 9:02am PST
Mike Fleming

Adam-nEveEXCLUSIVE: The world’s oldest story is on a collision course with cutting-edge Hollywood technology. I’m told that Paramount Pictures and former Walden Media co-founder Cary Granat producing with Reel Fx are mounting In The Beginning, a 3D telling of the creation story. The film is using The Book of Genesis as its primary resource. A script has been written by John Fusco (Hidalgo), and directing will be TV vet David Cunningham. This pair had teamed with Granat on a Walden film that never happened, Rebels: The Green Mountain Boys. Reel Fx is spearheading the visuals  and will soon turn over test footage the filmmakers hope will prompt a green light.  Paramount will co-finance and distribute.

I’m told the $30 million film will use 3-D visuals to transform the oft-told tale into a spectacle that the filmmakers hope will attract family- and faith-based audiences that flocked to The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, that first Chronicles of Narnia installment made on Granat’s Walden watch. I hear Granat pitched the film by claiming that the Adam And Eve story has never really been told by a feature film. (At least not since John Huston.) The Genesis tale of creation took a week that began with God creating light, culminating with Adam and Eve on Day Six, and a day of rest on Day Seven. But I can guarantee you this film is going to take more than a week to make. Where’s Cecil B DeMille when … Read More »

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Jewish Journal Stirs More Controversy Around ‘An Education’ And ‘A Serious Man’

By | Monday February 1, 2010 @ 2:23pm PST

Back in mid-December, I wrote this in my post Oscar Campaign Badmouthing Has Begun! “This year, the always delicate Jewish issue in Hollywood has taken a new and unexpected turn. Producers, agents, executives, and other major players will complain (privately, of course) that the movies An Education and A Serious Man depict Jews in a contemptible way. A recent article in The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles lashed into An Education saying the film’s depiction of its Jewish character is reminiscent of the parasitical Jew in the infamous Nazi anti-semitic propaganda film of the 1930’s, Der Ewige Juden (The Eternal Jew). Similarly, Hollywood is incensed privately by the Coen brothers’ A Serious Man and its Jewish stereotypes. Trust me, this will bubble up to the surface before too long if either film looks to be in serious contention for Best Picture.” Well, I was right. Now the Jewish Journal has another expanded look at the controversy surrounding these two pics under the headline: “Realism Or Anti-Semitism?”. Worth reading.

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‘To Save A Life’ Slipped Through Cracks

By | Monday January 25, 2010 @ 10:19am PST

to_save_a_lifeAfter the recent breakout successes of faith-based films like Fireproof and Facing The Giants, this past weekend’s debut of To Save A Life is the latest. Released by IDP/Samuel Goldwyn Films and Outreach Films, it opened on just 441 screens. But the pic is projected to gross $1,499,400. How? Through extensive grassroots outreach — which is marketing-speak for their advance and group sales effort among church groups and especially Christian teens, highlighted by success in markets like Burelson TX, Oceanside CA, Ft Lauderdale FL, and Evans GA, which make up the top grossers for To Save A Life, Goldwyn said. Funny enough, the pic did amazing matinee grosses on Friday and landed in the #2 spot to Hollywood’s amazement. “For the life of me, this one slipped between the cracks!” one top distribution exec emailed me because of it. Yet, on Fandango, To Save A Life was #3 in most requested tickets behind Avatar in IMAX and Digital 3D going into this weekend. But it finished Sunday not in the Top 10.

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Late Entry Irv Weintraub Passed Over

By | Wednesday September 16, 2009 @ 6:45pm PDT

UPDATES Irv Weintraub On Short List For Jewish Philanthropy Prez

Former William Morris COO, and late addition to the short list, Irv Weintraub lost out on that job to be president of the Jewish Federation. The search committee picked Jay Sanderson, who has led the the Jewish Television Network since 1989 and exec produced the PBS series, The Jewish Americans, and the upcoming PBS documentary on modern genocide, Worse Than War.

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Strange Bedfellows: Vatican Enjoying Hollywood’s ‘Angels & Demons’ Hype?

By | Friday May 15, 2009 @ 1:42pm PDT


A few weeks ago, Sony Pictures added a button to its Angels & Demons website linking to The Vatican Secret Archives. Not a fictional one, but the real Vatican site that’s the repository of centuries worth of documents pertaining to the Holy See. These Archives figure prominently in the storyline of the Dan Brown book and this weekend’s movie. Since then, 71,000 people have used the link to visit the Archives. Go figure. The appeal is that they can, for example, find the trial proceedings against Galileo (another topic touched on by the book/movie) or the letter requesting the annulment of Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon that split England from the Church of Rome. Clearly, the Dan Brown books/movies have been a catalyst for millions of people to learn about early Christian history.

Back when The Da Vinci Code was released in 2006, Sony was surprised when thousands of pastors embraced the controversial story by using it as a teaching tool. Now, with the release of Angels & Demons, Sony didn’t bat an eye when Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who’s in charge of one of the churches where some of the action in the book/movie takes place, was supportive of the film in a recent interview. “If it brings people to see the church, hopefully, being in a holy place will be a religious experience for them.” And to think that, at the start of the hype over … Read More »

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Crashing The Junket, Your Holiness?

By | Monday May 4, 2009 @ 9:01am PDT

This is a lobby card from the St. Regis Hotel in Rome on May 1. There was a junket and press conference for Angels & Demons in the Eternal City this weekend and the worldwide premiere is taking place today…


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Hollywood Wonders Why ‘Fireproof’ Did So Well When Other Christian Pics Don’t

By | Sunday September 28, 2008 @ 11:48am PDT

A big surprise at the box office this weekend was the 4th place opening of Provident/Samuel Goldwyn’s Fireproof, the small budget and limited release pic about a firefighter who recommits to his marriage and his faith. The movie is the latest from Sherwood Pictures, a nonprofit ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, that previously put out the popular Facing the Giants and the lesser-known Flywheel. Samuel Goldwyn Films is the theatrical distributor, while Provident Films handled Fireproof‘s outreach and marketing to Christian audiences. It debuted to a $2.3M Friday and $2.6M Saturday for a $6.5M gross weekend though released into only 839 dates and costing just $500K. The reason why is that the pic used grassroots methods to directly reach churches  on behalf of the PG film starring the grown-up star of TV’s Growing Pains, Kirk Cameron. (The evangelical actor claims he donated his pay from Fireproof to a camp for seriously ill kids he runs with his wife.) It had the year’s highest grossing opening weekend return of any film (except 3-D Hannah Montana) released on 1,000 screens or less. Faith-based “Action Squads” bought up blocks of tickets. “Just between you and me, keep your eye on the Fireproof per screen averages this weekend,” a source at Grace Hill Media, which markets to the religious community but wasn’t involved with this movie, tipped me. “On Sunday, I think there will be some distribution execs around town who will be asking ‘What the hell is Fireproof?’ ” The studios … Read More »

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UPDATE: Reality TV Sale Price $500 Mil? Mark Burnett “Seriously” Talking To IMG; Already IMG Execs Fawning All Over Him

FRIDAY UPDATE: I just heard from a knowledgeable source that the Mark Burnett-IMG deal may be as rich as $500 million — $250M upfront, the rest earned out…

EXCLUSIVE: I chased a rumor from a month ago that Mark Burnett might be starting his own network. Now I’ve learned what the already rich reality TV czar (Survivor, The Apprentice, Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?) is really up to: making even more moolah. An insider tells me Burnett is negotiating to sell his company to the entertainment and sports management and production behemoth IMG and come on board. I understand Burnett is “in very serious conversation” with IMG chairman Teddy Forstmann, whose Wall Street private equity firm Forstmann Little back in 2004 acquired IMG which was founded by his legendary friend Mark McCormack. Forstmann keeps looking for Tinseltown deals so when the LBO prince was spotted having lunch in as public a venue as NYC’s Michael’s a month ago, it sparked that rumor about Burnett starting his own network. Plus, remember that last September Teddy brought HBO’s fired Chris Albrecht to IMG as the president of global media and IMG entertainment, made him a special limited partner in Forstmann Little, and gave him a $250 million fund for showbiz content investments. It’ll be interesting to see how much bigger Burnett’s deal will be. And here’s why IMG considers him so valuable: I’m told that, at a Beverly Hills entertainment conference just … Read More »

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CAA Agent Axed Over Oprah Lands At UTA

By | Wednesday February 6, 2008 @ 4:54pm PST

united-talent.JPGMy info is that every major agency met or talked with Michael Camacho even though some present and former CAA bigwigs were actively trying to make sure he wasn’t hired. (Yup, that’s how much they disliked the guy whom the agency considered a “wild rogue”.) Finally, it got down to Endeavor and United Talent, and CAA was most concerned that Camacho would go to Endeavor. But UTA’s needs fit far better with Camacho’s very acknowledged skills in the reality arena, so he will be heading to that tenpercentery. See my previous, CAA Fires TV Agent Over Oprah Intrigue.

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Bob Shaye’s Big Gamble Won’t Pay Off: ‘Golden Compass’ Looks Leaden This Wkd

By | Friday December 7, 2007 @ 12:46am PST

thegoldencompass_galleryfinalposter.jpgMy box office gurus are telling me that New Line Cinema’s holiday tentpole The Golden Compass is going to be a huge bomb. They predict an opening domestic weekend starting today only in the high $20s million from 3,528 theaters. That’s disastrous because, with a pricetag of $200+ million without P&A costs, the fantasy epic should be making a minimum $50 million debut. Not to mention that the studio has spent big bucks marketing the heck out of the PG-13 pic based on UK author Philip Pullman’s young adult book trilogy His Dark Materials.

Problem is, Golden Compass has sparked the ire of the Catholic League, which is calling for a boycott of the film by parents with children due to Pullman’s supposedly anti-Christian notions. It’s the kind of action rarely taken by the Catholic League against a movie, not even last year’s The Da Vinci Code. Worse, it cements Nicole Kidman’s status as box office poison.

bobshayesmall.jpgThe pic couldn’t even muster big audiences for its Wednesday overseas opening; it debuts day and date in 27 markets this weekend. So much for NL chairman Bob Shaye’s hopes for a fresh franchise. Seriously, he’s had so many disappointments at the box office month after month after month, year after year (everything in 2007 except for Hairspray) that he should have a big “L” for “Loser” branded on his forehead.

No doubt, that’s why New Line suddenly leaked this Sex In The City: The MovieRead More »

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Is Mel Gibson Suddenly Keeping Kosher?

By | Wednesday July 25, 2007 @ 5:08pm PDT

See why I’m asking here.

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