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The Story behind the story: Gena Rowlands;Jesse James; a poker champ; and Ragtime, the Irish in America

It's almost enough to make a skeptic recant.

And if he did, he might have to say that, maybe, the man-who-says-he-can-talk-to-the-dead has more clout than we've given him credit for.

While the rest of us cursed the cold on Wednesday, the director of the made-for-TV movie What If God Were The Sun, currently shooting in Winnipeg, said it had been just perfect, more perfect than he could have ever hoped for.

His movie is based on a book written by John Edwards, a psychic who says he can pass messages from beyond the grave. The director has always had a healthy skepticism to Edward's claims. But he may be softening a bit after Wednesday.

The shoot is more than halfway through its 19-day schedule so time is of the essence.

Wednesday they hoped to shoot two scenes, one calling for a gloomy, cloudy sky and the other---wouldn't you know it--- for bright sunshine.

Scene one went off without a hitch with the sky over Winnipeg heavy with lowhanging clouds. As they moved to their second location, the clouds miraculously parted and the bright winter sun came streaming through. Perfect.

Did John Edwards put in a word with someone upstairs when it mattered?

What If God Were The Sun got an important boost this week when veteran actress Gena Rowlands was signed to play the lead. She replaces Mary Tyler Moore who, according to the Winnipeg Free Press, quit for "personal reasons."

Well, not exactly.

Mary Tyler Moore actually quit a couple of weeks ago. She said she just couldn't work with Lacey Chabert, 24, the second lead who had just signed on. She said she doubted Chabert, who played one of the Mean Girls opposite Lindsay Lohan, could handle the emotional requirements of the role. And that meant the movie would flop. And she, MTM, didn't want to be in a flop this late in her life.

Her unexpected departure created a bit of a panic.

The studio had bent over backward to cater to her request for a personal assistant, although they hemmed and hawed at coughing up a hugh chunk o' change for a private jet because there are no direct flights to Winnipeg and she didn't want to transfer planes. They had turned cartwheels when she said yes to the script, ending their plan to call the next name on their list, Jane Fonda.

Now, with shooting only days away, they had no lead. Meetings were held and phone calls were made. And a decision arrived at.

Phone Bette Midler.

Tell her, one week of shooting and one million dollars.

Bette, with a new Christmas album out, and no notice, was unavailable, million or no.

Panic. Part Two.

Just as they started looking for Ann Margaret's phone number, a network executive made an electrifying suggestion. Call Gena Rowlands first.

And, wonder of wonders, she said yes the next day.

Her reputation proceeds her, and the cast and crew are weak at the knees at the thought of working with an actor of her calibre.


A movie that appears less blessed is one that's dear to the heart of Winnipeggers.

Black Rod has discovered some clues to what's holding up THE ASSASINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD, starring Brad Pitt. The movie wrapped 15 months ago, including a few days of shooting in Winnipeg. The local extras have been wondering what's happened with their movie.

Well, an early cut of the film has begun showing up at sneak peaks in the U.S.

A couple of people who saw it have posted their own reviews on Ain't It Cool News.

Bronson says:
This is not your average western. This film is very dark, with Brad Pitt playing his darkest character since, ?Kalifornia?. Brad Pitt doesn't use a lot of words in his performance, it's all looks and internal turmoil, he is truly mesmerizing in this performance, showing a more mature actor then we have seen before.

The Man says:
The film looks amazing and the performances are there, if they shave a good 50 mins off the film I think the pacing would work much better, the story kept moving. I can't say I recommend the film as it is, but I hope they cut it down before it is released.

You see, the rough cut runs two hours and 50 minutes.

And while everyone says its good, its also very--- how shall we put it--- arty.
"...voice over, abstract shots, and beautiful scenery, something out of a Terence (sic) Malick film." said The Man.

Terrence Malick brought us Days of Heaven (1978) , The Thin Red Line (1998), and The New World (2005). All praised by critics. But none a box-office barn-burner.

And that appears the problem with the release of The Assassination of Jesse James. It was originally scheduled for release this past fall. People thought it was delayed because Brad Pitt wanted to concentrate on promoting Babel.

Tony Scott, the executive producer, told the Calgary Sun last month he thought it was coming out "the holiday weekend" of February. But there is no holiday weekend in February. And the studio, Warner Brothers, denies its being released that soon.

WB honchos are trying to read the entrails to decide whether its:
a.) offbeat but saleable, which could mean a February to April release,
b.) going to bomb, which calls for a mercy release in August, or
c.) high falutin' enough to be an Oscar contender, and a fall 2007 release.


Winnipeg is in a competition for still another movie -- and doesn't know it.

The Madison Kid, a movie about Phil Hellmuth, the youngest world champion poker player, is to start filming in Winnipeg in April or May, 2007. Hayden Christensen is to play the lead in the $6-8 million movie. Yes, Hayden Christensen, the nice Vancouver boy who played Anakin Skywalker in a couple of Star Wars movies.

But Phil Hellmuth himself has joined the film industry lobby in Wisconsin to sweeten the incentives for moviemakers so that the movie of his life can be shot in the town where he grew up.

"If we play our cards right, there is still a chance of bringing 'The Madison Kid' home to Madison. The legislature needs to act quickly and fix the film incentive legislation they passed in May and make the incentives retroactive as of Jan. 1, 2007. The producers at Beacon are laying all of their cards on the table and giving Wisconsin a shot to win this project back from Winnipeg." Hellmuth wrote in the Wisconsin Journal Times this week.

Hasn't he heard about our Spirited Energy?


And still on the topic of entertainment....

Grant Park High School is putting on a production of the Broadway hit Ragtime with student performers. They ran into a rather unusual problem, though.

The play interweaves the stories of three families, one white, one Jewish, one black. Problem was Grant Park High couldn't cast black students to play Coalhouse Walker, the main character in Ragtime, and his girlfriend Sarah. This isn't New York. So they figured they'd change the play a teeny tiny bit and have Coalhouse and Sarah become Irish in their production.

We can't say that bright idea was scrapped before or after Garth Drabinsky, the producer of Ragtime on Broadway, met with students and staff Nov. 8.

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