Hollywood Playbook: Today's Top 5 News Items

Hollywood Playbook: Today's Top 5 News Items

1.Mark Wahlberg  to Reboot “Highway to Heaven”

Wahlberg has won some goodwill from conservatives because of his role in bringing “Lone Survivor” faithfully to the screen and his work on behalf of the Wounded Warrior Project. Wahlberg now appears to be making a play for the faith-based audience with a reboot of the beloved Michael Landon series “Highway to Heaven.”

Highway to Heaven is making an edgy comeback.

A&E is developing a contemporary remake of the acclaimed late-1980s Michael Landon drama, with Mark Wahlberg on board as an executive producer. The project, which centers on an angel sent down to earth to help troubled souls, is being penned by former Hell on Wheels showrunner John Wirth

We will have to see what exactly “edgy” means.

As a Christian I am fine with “edgy.” There have been a number of terrific R-rated pro-Christian films, including “The Exorcist“(1973),  “The Bad Lieutenant” (1992), and “The Rapture” (1991).  I am perfectly comfortable with Christian films that aim for wholesome and sincere and just as comfortable with those that take a harsher look at sin and the darker parts of the human condition.

What matters is the message, not the vehicle used to deliver it.


2. China Adds 5,000 Movie Screens

This news has major ramifications on the kind of movies Hollywood makes. The more screens in China, the more the studios gear films to attract Chinese customers. Another dirty little secret is that China is becoming Hollywood’s new Breen Office — the entity that intimidates the studios into censoring their own product just like the Production Code during Hollywood’s Golden Age:

Chinese cinema operators added an astonishing 5,077 new cinema screens last year, as they opened a massive 903 new complexes.

The numbers, from the State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, mean that China now has 4,582 cinema complexes and 18,195 screens, increases of 25% and 39% respectively.

Ticket sales kept pace, showing a 32% increase from 462 million in 2012 to 612 million in 2013.

Between GLAAD and China, Hollywood is going to remember the Production Code as the good old days.


3. Aereo Spreads; Bundled Cable Shudders


In any case, Aereo has set January 21 as the date when it will throw the switch to serve the Greater Cincinnati area which includes 24 counties in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. Subscribers who pay at least $8 a month will receive  30 over-the-air channels with all of the usual suspect network affiliates plus special interest channels RetroTV, MeTV, BounceTV, TuffTV, WCPO Weather, Create and ThisTV.

Sounds like a great deal.

Probably be a while before they make it to my little mountain town in North Carolina.


4. Christian Horror Hit “The Conjuring” Gets Franchise Treatment

Last year’s horror blockbuster “The Conjuring” was not only well-made, acted and scary, it was also very respectful of the Christian faith. With just a $20 million budget it grossed over $300 worldwide and now it is getting the full franchise treatment:

The Conjuring was released during last year’s busy summer box office season and made an impressive $318 million worldwide, with a budget of just $20 million. More importantly, it won Screen Rant’s approval, which is almost certainly the main reason why there are now three micro-budgeted spinoffs are now in development (along with a direct sequel).

The first of these is Annabelle, which fleshes out the spooky story behind the doll and will be directed by The Conjuring’s cinematographer, John R. Leonetti. The Wrap reports that Annabelle’s two leads have now been cast: Ward Horton (The Wolf of Wall Street) and Annabelle Wallis (Peaky Blinders, Fleming).

Hopefully, the powers-that-be understand that the Christian element was a big part of the film’s appeal and story strength and will not lose sight of its importance as the series grows.

Christianity gave “The Conjuring’s” horror a base of reality (it was supposedly based on a true story). Another plus is that the gore was almost non-existent and that the family being terrorized and the Christian couple brought in to save them were all likable and sympathetic.


5. Jack Ryan’s Chopper ‘Blown Out of the Sky By a Barrage of Choppy Editing’

Kurt Loder in Reason:

The picture appears to be an attempted reboot of the Ryan franchise (the last film, The Sum of All Fears, came out in 2002). And so it gets underway, rather slowly, with a backstory montage. We meet Ryan studying for a Ph.D. at the London School of Economics in 2001. Jolted by 9/11, he joins the Marines and is deployed to Afghanistan, where we see a helicopter on which he’s traveling blown out of the sky by a barrage of choppy editing. Shipped back to the States, he regains use of his limbs with the help of (this is a little unclear) an aspiring ophthalmologist named Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley). Then a CIA honcho named Harper (Kevin Costner) turns up to recruit Ryan for duty on Wall Street, where he’ll monitor the funding of worldwide terror networks. …

This sort of picture really requires the dash and charisma of a full-bore movie star in the lead. Pine isn’t there yet, and he’s outclassed by Costner’s easy warmth and old-pro line readings. And while Branagh is of course an excellent performer, he’s not really a “movie star” either – murmuring his dialogue (“America vill bleed”) through tightly compressed lips, he seems more like a ventriloquist in search of his dummy than a world-class villain. The actors go through all the motions of genre intrigue, but the movie goes nowhere new.



Quick Hits:

Don’t miss Alfred Hitchcock’s “Lifeboat” Saturday at 8pm EST on TCM…

The Whisky a Go Go is 50…

Dave Madden of ‘The Partridge Family’ Dies at 82

Russell Johnson, Professor on ‘Gilligan’s Island,’ Dies at 89…

R.I.P. ‘Oz’ Munchkin Ruth Robinson Duccini…


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