Bill Maher's Anti-Religion Movie | 'Harry Potter' Studio Horsing Around | First Listen: All-Star Charity Single | Katie's Photo Ops; Pricey 'Hamlet'; Times Gets Healthy

Bill Maher's Anti-Religion Movie

“Religion is detrimental to the progress of society.” That’s my favorite quote from Bill Maher’s often brilliant, but often unfocused “documentary,” called “Religulous.” It opens in early October right after its debut at the Toronto Film Festival.

The articulate, quick-witted comedian sets out in this film — which was supposed to have been released last Easter — to prove that line is true. Directed by Larry Charles, the man who put "Borat" together so skillfully, "Religulous" is blatant about Maher’s feelings: religion is bad. All religions are bad. They are ruining everything.

If you go for that, then "Religulous" is for you. Unlike Michael Moore, whose controversial films at least allow stories to be told, Maher is not interested in other viewpoints. Rather, "Religulous" is a long Maher spiel that pauses only to underscore his own points.

At first the film is very funny as Maher gently mocks one organized religion after another. He questions just about everything in Catholicism, even though he was raised Catholic. (His mother is Jewish, but threw it all over for the father.) Everything from the Immaculate Conception to crucifixion re-enactments are covered. By the time “Religulous” is over, the faith-seekers in the audience will have scratched Catholic off their possibilities.

Not that the other major religious groups don’t come in for razzing, either. Maher is brutal to Orthodox Jews and just as nasty to Muslims. (He interviews gay Muslims in Amsterdam, a city where he also smokes a lot of pot and finds many easy laughs.) Mormons get it, and so do Scientologists, whom Maher mocks in London’s Hyde Park.

Maher sends up everything outrageous and unusual in religion, cherry-picking the fringe elements wherever he can find them. There’s no question that he’s serious in his endeavors, and for a while following him feels like it’s going to lead somewhere.

Alas, it doesn’t. Unlike "Borat," or even a Moore film, “Religulous” is a dead end. In the last quarter, the laughs peter out as we realize the exploration is pointless. The film concludes with a long, very not funny, tedious speech by Maher — in which he rails against religion — that should clear theaters before the credits start rolling.

Right now you can see a trailer for "Religulous" on LionsGate’s Web site. Interestingly, it’s linked another site called disbelief.net. Obviously, a parody site designed just for the film, disbelief.net is registered to an unknown group in the Cayman Islands. It features the quotes of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, videos from the Church of Scientology Web site and a link to a Christian yoga video collection starring (whatever happened to) ‘Northern Exposure” star Janine Turner.

“Religulous” is a tough call. Will audiences flock to theatres to see it? That depends on just how many atheists there are at the popcorn stand. Maher’s point, that the world would be a better place without any religions, that wars would be eliminated and there would be universal understanding, comes across simultaneously as utopian and cynical.

'Harry Potter' Studio Horsing Around

The postponement of the “Harry Potter” movie until July 6, 2009, has made fans of the books and movies very, very unhappy.

But I told you the other day that “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” could not be released while star Daniel Radcliffe was on Broadway raping and blinding horses in “Equus.” On the telecharge page for the play, there’s this reminder of how un-“Harry” this play is:

“May be inappropriate for 16 and under. (Nudity, subject matter)
Children under the age of 4 are not permitted in the theatre.”

Now comes a two-page Annie Leibovitz photo in the new “Vogue.” Radcliffe is naked on top of a horse, and Richard Griffiths — who is also in “Harry Potter” and plays the shrink in “Equus” — looks on in horror and disgust.

Click here to see

So you see, this is the publicity for “Equus,” which opens on Sept. 25. Imagine Radcliffe and Griffiths going out to do “Harry Potter” publicity in early November, six weeks into the “Equus” run. Think of someone like Regis genially taking out that picture, or a less charitable Howard Stern wondering aloud if Harry could do something magical to the horse. Ouch!

Nevertheless, the very brave and nice Alan Horn, head of Warner Bros., has tried to ameliorate the situation by posting a statement on the “Harry Potter” Web site. Really, it just makes matters worse. Like John Edwards, he should just concede the truth and let it go. You have to feel bad for Alan Horn. Don’t you think he wants “Harry Potter” in the fourth quarter?

Believe me, he doesn’t want to wait until next July to rake in $300 million. Without it, his fall-Christmas doesn’t look so hot. Warner’s has already cut a couple of films from the release schedule because they’re not good — like Guy Ritchie’s “RockNRolla” — and they have to deal with the disgusting and much maligned “Towelhead.”

Horn’s statement says: “Please be assured that we share your love for Harry Potter and would certainly never do anything to hurt any of the films…If I may offer a silver lining: there would have been a two-year gap between "Half-Blood Prince" and the much-anticipated first part of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," which opens in November 2010. So although we have to wait a little longer for "Half-Blood Prince," the wait from that film until "Deathly Hallows" will be less than 18 months. I am sorry to have disappointed you now, but if you hold on a little longer, I believe it will be worth the wait.”

So be nice. It’s not his fault. I’m sure he’s thinking, "They shoot horses, don’t they?"

First Listen: All-Star Charity Single

Here it is: The first listen of "Just Stand Up," a charity single recorded by 15 all-stars in anticipation of the Sept. 5 "Stand Up for Cancer" telethon.

On the single you'll hear Mariah Carey, Sheryl Crow, Leona Lewis, Beyonce, Rihanna, Mary J. Blige, Carrie Underwood, Melissa Etheridge, Miley Cyrus, Fergie, Ashanti, Natasha Bedingfield, Keyshia Cole, Ciara and LeeAnn Rimes. Whew! It's fun just trying to figure out who's who.

The record was produced by Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds and L. A. Reid — their first collaboration in 20 years. "Just Stand Up" started getting airplay around the country Thursday night, and it will officially debut on iTunes on Sept. 2.

But you can hear it here first, and as many times as you like.

Click here to listen.

Katie's Photo Ops; Pricey 'Hamlet'; Times Gets Healthy

The nearly daily Katie Holmes photo ops of her and Suri romping in the park or playground can stop now. The planned sessions, designed to drum up business for Broadway’s “All My Sons,” aren’t working.

There are reports everywhere that the show simply is not doing blockbuster pre-sales. Seeing Suri on the swings hasn’t motivated ticket-buyers to get to the box office. “All My Sons” is not that kind of show anyway. It’s a serious play, not “Mamma Mia!” If the reviews are great on opening night, then ticket sales will follow, Suri or no Suri.

And frankly, those reviews will be about stars John Lithgow and Dianne Wiest, not Katie. …

The critics hate “Hamlet 2,” a one-note joke that played so well at Sundance that Focus Features reportedly paid more than $10 million for it. If the movie bombs this weekend, it could well signal the end for Focus as a stand-alone within Universal Pictures. The mini-studio is otherwise counting on the Coen Brothers’ “Burn After Reading” and the Sean Penn starrer “Milk” to pull them through the year, as well as the four-and-a-half hour Steven Soderbergh films about Che Guevara. …

The New York Times has discovered healthy eating and blogs all at the same time. Their daily entry from famed California food writer Martha Rose Shulman has turned into a surprise cult hit online. Shulman, who has about 20 books in print including her classic, "The Vegetarian Feast," also works with Wolfgang Puck. But her Times pieces are now among “the most e-mailed” stories on the newspaper’s Web site. …

The cast and producers of the Swedish version of the musical “The Producers” hit Elaine’s Thursday night, taking up a long table in the back of the room. They’re in town to soak up some New York research before their show opens.

In the last week, James Gandolfini and his fiancée, Jayson Williams, Ron Darling, Lainie Kazan and Chris Lemmon all “soaked up” Elaine’s, too. …