Less than Total Coverage

Hey, look, another 40-year-old virginRemember how I mentioned that the NOW gig means I no longer have to see every movie opening in a given week?

Well, some weeks it’s more obvious than usual; since I’ve been busy with various Toronto film-festival screenings — Cinefranco, Images, Sprockets and Hot Docs all open within the space of a month here every spring — most of the commercial theatrical stuff has been assigned to other people.

The upside? I didn’t have to troop off to last night’s 10 pm screening of “Shutter”. The downside? I didn’t get to see “Shutter”, and don’t get to make fun of it.

Okay, that’s not much of a downside. But here’s what I did review this week:

Drillbit Taylor“: Okay, yes, “Superbad” was set in the final weeks of high school’s senior year, and this one’s set in the first weeks of freshman year — yes, you’re right, they’re totally different films. Also, “Superbad” didn’t blow dead sea donkeys.

The Duchess of Langeais“: Jacques Rivette! On a big screen! Just go!

Married Life“: Ira Sachs follows his brilliant, barely-released drama “Forty Shades of Blue” with this considerably less brilliant period picture about men, mistresses and murder. Pierce Brosnan, Chris Cooper, Patricia Clarkson and Rachel McAdams all give terrific performances, but the movie never comes to life.

Paranoid Park“: Gus Van Sant! On a big screen! Just go!

And here’s what I didn’t review:

“Days of Darkness”: I’ve been trying to see Denys Arcand’s latest for nearly a year now, but never managed to line up a screening. Reception has been mixed — Glenn had problems with it, and Jason, who usually likes Arcand’s more esoteric stuff, had a few more — but Arcand’s projects are always so personal and tricky that I figure I should see it for myself. I guess I’ll have to catch it at the Cumberland, with regular people. Jeez.

“The Grand”: Zak Penn follows his hysterical “Incident at Loch Ness” — a fake documentary in which Werner Herzog sets out to film the legendary water-horse and winds up turning into Captain Quint — with another improvised feature, this one set in the world of high-stakes poker. Susan didn’t go for it.

“Snow Angels”: David Gordon Green, who made the brilliant “George Washington”, the lovely “All the Real Girls” and the unreedeemable “Undertow”, takes another run at small-town Gothic, this time with Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale. I haven’t seen it myself, but Adam was unimpressed.

“Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns”: I really wish Barack Obama had included Perry’s movies when he ran down the list things white people just don’t get earlier this week … it was a glaring absence in an otherwise remarkable speech. If anyone could explain how treating your audience like children and pandering to every crass stereotype somehow connotes to artistry, I’d be right appreciative. (Radheyan doesn’t even go there, but then he didn’t have a lot of space.)

Oh, and Adam saw “Shutter“. Didn’t love it.

Hope you all enjoy your Easter weekend — those Reese’s Peanut Butter Mini Eggs totally rock, by the way.

Art House Confidential

I got problemsRemember the good old days of art-house cinema, when people lined up around the block to see the restoration of “Touch of Evil” and new films from Woody Allen, Barry Levinson and Neil Labute were highly anticipated, rather than awaited with a vague sense of dread?

You know, 1998?

Whoops, got distracted by the opportunity for a cheap movie-geek joke. Sorry.

Anyway, starting tonight, the Royal Cinema is hosting a week-long bill of two very excellent new films from two very important and interesting directors, and that bill is the subject of this week’s feature movie review in NOW.

If you live in Toronto, and you have any interest in really good movies that exist entirely out of the mainstream, you really should get down to the Royal and catch at least one of these with an audience. They’re very different experiences on DVD.

Also, we can sadly add the estimable actor Paul Scofield to this week’s list of famous dead people. Leukemia. I guess it never really stops, does it?

Childhood’s End

I've come for your precious memories!No, I’m not talking about the passing of Arthur C. Clarke; he was 90, he lived a fine life, wrote some good books and changed the world with the whole geosynchronous satellite thing; that’s cool.

I’m just cynically appropriating one of his most recognizable titles to get you to look at my recent Sympatico/MSN movies column about ten failed family films … you know, stuff like “Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat”, which cynically appropriate a recognizable title to get people to see a terrible Mike Myers movie.

Sorry. I’m a jerk.

Magic and Loss

With Sandra Hebron at the London film festival's opening night galaI’ve just come back from the Hot Docs press conference and learned that Anthony Minghella has died. This breaks my heart a little bit.

Minghella made one of the finest romances of the 1990s — and no, I don’t mean “The English Patient”, though that was an entirely decent picture. I’m talking about “Truly Madly Deeply”, a piercing little drama about grief, loss and self-sacrifice that grows only more powerful with multiple viewings.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Minghella twice, when he came to Toronto on the promotional tours for “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “Cold Mountain”. And “pleasure” is the operative word; he was a genuine, generous man who seemed to really enjoy trading theories about what his films meant, and whether he’d succeeded in getting his ideas through the screen. And he had a terrific laugh.

He appears, very briefly, as a television interviewer at the end of “Atonement”; it’s director Joe Wright’s attempt to imply an endorsement of his wholesale appropriation of the grandeur of Minghella’s “The English Patient”. Whether that was Minghella’s intention, I can’t say; I’d hoped to ask him about it at the London film festival last year — I knew he’d give me an honest answer — but our paths never quite crossed.

Damn it. Damn it, damn it, damn it.

If you haven’t seen “Truly Madly Deeply”, find it and watch it tonight. I can almost guarantee you have nothing better to do.

The End of the World, Big Willie Style

The dog gets kibble; Will gets 10% of the grossAbout a month ago, I was planning on doing a whole massive comparison piece on the three movie adaptations of Richard Matheson’s “I Am Legend”, but then Tasha Robinson went and wrote the definitive article over at the Onion AV Club, so … well, click the link. She said virtually everything that needed to be said; as is usually the case with the AV Club, the comments fill in what few blanks remain.

Anyway, I wound up focusing exclusively on the new film in this week’s Sympatico/MSN DVD column, which is now online. Basically, I still feel the same way as I did about it back in December; it’s a faithful and surprisingly powerful adaptation of Matheson’s book, right up until it completely falls apart.

Oh, and the alternate ending about which you may have heard? It’s better. But not better enough.

Close the Shutters, Turn Out the Lights

Finally, Joe Wright can claim he accomplished somethingParamount signed off with “Into the Wild” and “Things We Lost in the Fire” two weeks ago, and tomorrow Universal releases its final HD DVD title with “Atonement“.

While Warner is committed to releasing HD DVD editions of its high-def titles for another two months, “Atonement” is special: It’s the format’s very last exclusive release.

And, on another level, it’s not special at all; as far as Universal’s home-video publicity operation is concerned, it doesn’t even exist. The studio isn’t making review copies available to the press.

Barely a month ago, when “American Gangster” was coming out, Universal sent the HD DVD edition out weeks ahead of its street date in a splashy promotional package, complete with the electronic press kit on a branded USB drive.

And now, nothing. Just a sad little shrug, and the unspoken admission that the Blu-ray version will be along soon enough.

That’s fine. I’m much more interested in Paramount’s as-yet-unannounced BD titles, like “Sweeney Todd” and “There Will Be Blood”. With the standard DVD editions set for April 1st and 8th, respectively, those Blu-ray announcements should be coming down any minute now …

Ain’t Nobody Laughing, Mike

You see, we're punishing you because you're American, only you're British and Australian, which is what makes it ironicOver at his fine Scanners blog at the Chicago Sun-Times — which I’ve been neglecting to add to the permalinks on this page for months now — Jim Emerson has been running a terrific series of posts considering the politics, efficacy and ramifications of Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games U.S.”.

(Reading Emerson’s Sun-Times review of the remake is probably a good idea before wading into the larger coverage, just so we can all agree that Emerson understands the film and its mission.)

Today’s post starts off with quotes from Adam’s interview with Haneke in Eye and folds in some additional observations from Nick Dawson’s Filmmaker interview with the director. Earlier posts considered the range of responses from American critics, and the fairly unpleasant attitude evident in the film’s marketing.

Obviously, I’m so interested in Emerson’s arguments because he agrees with my own assessment of the film … but it’s also worth reading the comments to his posts for a larger sense of the discussion.

Or, if you’re tired of the whole meta-Haneke thing, you could just read Glenn Kenny’s brave confession of the debilitating personal tic that’s kept him from seeing “10,000 B.C.” over at Premiere.com.

Actually, I’m going to insist you read that anyway.

Waiting for the Sun

March? But they'll never remember us come Oscar time!At the NOW offices yesterday, I was asked, in all seriousness: “When are the movies going to start getting better”?

That’s the problem with March. The Oscar pictures have played out, and there’s nothing to take their place but middleweight blockbuster wannabes and the headier movies the studios couldn’t figure out how to sell. But hey, you put Jim Carrey and Steve Carell in another movie together, you’re guaranteed a $60 million opening, right?

Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!“: The people who gave us the “Ice Age” films bring their lush visual sensibility (and weak sense of narrative) to the beloved children’s classic, and the good news is that this is probably the least disagreeable of the recent Seuss adaptations. Of course, that’s one hell of a sliding scale.

Funny Games U.S.“: Michael Haneke remakes his own 1997 meta-thriller, virtually shot for shot, with Naomi Watts and Tim Roth playing the poor bourgeois saps whose pleasant existence is violated by a pair of polite sociopaths. It’s our own fault because we were too dense to get his point the first time around. But unless he’s handing out mission statements at the popcorn counter, how will we know there’s a point to get?

Sleepwalking“: Charlize Theron, Nick Stahl and AnnaSophia Robb mope around gloomily as members of a dented family in William Maher’s Sundance-calibrated drama. I guess every year gets its own version of “Winter Solstice”. Or was it “Winter Passing”? Ah, whatever, they’re all crap.

Also opening this week: “CJ7”, with Stephen Chow and what appears to be a CGI tribble; “Doomsday” — a post-plague “Mad Max” redux from the director of “The Descent”, which the distributor inexplicably failed to screen for review — and “Never Back Down”, which apparently wants to be a 21st century “Karate Kid” for audiences raised on Mixed Martial Arts.

Me, I’m off to see Jacques Rivette’s new film this morning. So there.

Upselling Your Monster

Let's hope Hulk remembered to tuck a few singles into those giant pantsThe trailer for “The Incredible Hulk” is out, and I couldn’t help watching it after Torontoist reported how much of it is made up of material shot here last summer, when a few blocks of Yonge Street were terraformed into a reasonable facsimile of uptown Manhattan.

I wasn’t aware the Zanzibar had opened a franchise down the street from the Apollo, but I hope it’s working out for them.

Anyway, the trailer looks promising; Universal’s marketing department is certainly emphasizing the random-destruction, gamma-irradiated-mutants angle this time around, and Edward Norton looks reasonably convincing as Bruce Banner.

But poor Tim Roth. After suffering the torments of the damned in Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games” remake — about which more here — the poor guy looks absolutely wretched here, and that’s before he turns into … well, whatever he turns into.