Tina Fey Saves the World

Fight the real enemyTina Fey’s awesomeness has gone global.

Over here in London, people who’ve never heard of “30 Rock” are talking about Fey in worshipful tones. Her encounter with the real Sarah Palin over the weekend is world news. And the Guardian ran a suitably loving profile of her in its G2 feature section today.

This has been said before, but it bears repeating: Americans really have no idea how they’re perceived beyond their own borders. Patton Oswalt was right: The country is like a giant, retarded trust-fund kid.

While the “real” Palin chirps loathsome rhetoric that divides her own nation into salt-of-the-earth small-town folks and phony metropolitan terrorist enablers and her running mate is shocked, shocked! to discover people think Barack Obama is “an arab” after a year-long Republican whisper campaign, everyone here is just hoping the world’s noisiest superpower can get its shit together in two weeks’ time.

It’d sure be nice, wouldn’t it? And if it doesn’t happen, there’s always the “Liz” scenario.

Hasta La Vista, Opurt

The sunset is in the other direction, little dudeThe only story that matters today: Berkeley Breathed discusses his decision to end the adventures of his long-running, and entirely beloved, cartoon character.

The final “Opus” will run on Sunday, November 2nd. He says it’s not going to be a downer, but I can’t imagine how it won’t be — Breathed’s strips did more to calibrate my bullshit detector and political cynicism more than any other cartoonist’s. (Yes, even more than Bill Watterson.)

I know it’s only a comic strip, and Opus himself never really existed in the first place; as Chandler once said of the death of Bambi’s mother, it’s no big deal that a guy stopped drawing a deer. But Breathed has created a marvelous character over the decades — an innocent doof with a heart as big as his schnozz.

And when an artist who’s capable of something as moving as this particular strip decides to stop doing what he does best, we should all take a moment to consider what we’re going to be missing.

Eurotrip II

Still out there, blinking in the sunIt’s a travel day, as I pack up and head across the Atlantic to do some further film festivaling.

First, a few days in London, where I will chase several interviews that failed to gel at TIFF and catch a few more movies. Then it’s off to Austria for the Viennale, where I’ve been invited to sit on the FIPRESCI jury. First order of business: Trying to reschedule my commitments so I’m free to catch Mark’s “Birdsong” documentary, “Waiting for Sancho”, with an audience.

Posts may be spotty over the next couple of weeks, but I’ll try to have something up every day. Also, the time difference works in my favor.

Meanwhile, back at home, it’s a Friday and there are movies opening left, right and center …

Battle in Seattle“: Stuart Townsend’s docudrama about the WTO riots in Seattle bristles with energy and even-handed cool, and features well-drawn performances from Charlize Theron, Woody Harrelson, Jennifer Carpenter and the marvelous Andre Benjamin. Apparently Joshua Jackson is in there somewhere, too, but damned if I could find him.

FLOW: For Love of Water“: Hey, you know how nothing on Earth can survive without water? Irena Salina’s didactic-but-disturbing documentary explains why that might be a problem, and sooner than we think.

Happy-Go-Lucky“: Mike Leigh tries to reinvent himself as a cuddly smurf with this shiny-happy dramedy about an irrepressible schoolteacher and the people whose paths she flits across. Sally Hawkins is terrific in the lead, but everything else seems to have been sourced from previous Leigh films and slotted in at random.

“Max Payne”: Mark Wahlberg battles the devil, or something, in John Moore’s digitally augmented adaptation of the allegedly beloved videogame. Barrett got a headache.

“Morning Light”: Plucky young people train for a sailboat adventure in this Disney-produced which seems to have been produced as a promotional tie-in for the Trans Pac race so beloved by Roy Disney. I think I remember reading that somewhere, anyway. Rad was unmoved.

“Passchendaele”: In which Paul Gross finally declares himself Canada’s pop-culture messiah, or something. After “Men with Brooms”, I can’t say I’m in any hurry to see this. Susan liked it, though.

“The Secret Life of Bees”: Another film that’s eluded me at every turn. At this point, I’m happy to just say the title in my Eddie Izzard voice and walk around the room, giggling. They were trying to position it as Oscar bait at TIFF, but Jason remains skeptical.

“Sex Drive”: Even though this features Seth Green as an Amish car mechanic, it just screams “wait for the DVD”. And so I shall. Barrett went instead.

“W.”: I wish I knew why Oliver Stone made this movie. I mean, I’ve seen it, and I still have no idea. I guess he wanted to remind everyone that he’s the guy who made “J.F.K.” and “Nixon”. But, really … why tell this story if you don’t have any feelings about it one way or the other? And what the hell did Thandie Newton think she was doing? Adam asks similar questions.

And that, I think, is that. Off to Heathrow now, toodle-pip. Let me know if I can bring back any UK candy for you.

The Crumbling of John McCain

Click for further contextMy new projector — which I’ve been drooling over for some time now — finally arrived late yesterday afternoon.

After the usual struggle to get it mounted and connected, and the ritual Tweaking of the Settings — which involved testing it with the Blu-ray disc of “Casino Royale” and the HD DVD edition of my beloved “Shaun of the Dead”, both of which looked positively rapturous in proper 1080p/24 — Kate and I settled down to watch the third McCain-Obama debate in true HD, rather than the quasi-HD of our previous projector, the Sanyo PLV-Z1.

Sweet zombie Jesus. With the accent on the “zombie”.

I’ve been watching HD programming for years now, but I hadn’t realized how much definition we were losing with the Sanyo’s 1/4 HD panels. The sit-down format of this debate, with both candidates framed in close-up on a split screen, also played up the details in both men’s faces.

We could see the hint of five o’clock shadow on Obama’s upper lip. And the harsh lighting made him look skinnier than usual — though that might also have been the natural result of his long, long campaign.

But John McCain looked like death. Lumpy, sagging, strangely moist-eyed for most of the hour we watched — sadly, I missed his “zero? Zero?” moment, and had to catch up to it online — McCain came off as an uncomfortable, creepy fraud struggling to keep his real emotions from spilling out onto the table.

That moment where he told Obama that his campaign of slanders and innuendo was all the result of his hurt feelings over Obama declining to join him in a series of town-hall debates? “Feeble” is the only word that applies to such a strategy. And Obama just looked like the bigger man in every respect by refusing to acknowledge the petulance — the childishness — of the charge.

Look, I used to respect John McCain. He may not be the straight-talking maverick he claims to be, but he used to be a pretty decent guy, and what the Bush people did to him in 2000 was reprehensible. In 2004, when the stories that John Kerry had approached him to be his running mate in a genuinely bi-partisan ticket — well, that seemed like a really good idea.

But the man running for President now is not your grandfather’s John McCain. He’s abandoned his ideals and his honor in pursuit of the Oval Office, surrounded himself with the same venal bastards who destroyed him in New Hampshire, and disgraced his name and his legacy with his campaign. The Sarah Palin thing is just an uncomfortable footnote now.

But back to the HD thing — maybe it’s just me (okay, it’s almost definitely just me), but this debate felt like Nixon-Kennedy all over again. On one side, there’s a calm, confident challenger who understands the medium and is using it to his best advantage; on the other, there’s an aging, combative veteran of the process who nonetheless seems ill-prepared for the venue. Who could possibly come away from this thinking McCain seemed more Presidential?

Whipped

I'm fixing to use this on whippersnappersSo here, finally, is my review of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”, in this week’s Sympatico/MSN DVD column.

Good points: One spectacular visual moment; John Williams’ still-rousing score; seeing Karen Allen again; slowly realizing that Cate Blanchett had made a conscious decision to play her evil Soviet villainess without bending her elbows or knees.

(I’m not sure what it means for the character, but it certainly made the performance more interesting than it might otherwise have been.)

Bad points: … yeah, pretty much everything else.

Dammit.

La Vie Humaine

Your world-weariness, I admire itSurprising news: Guillaume Depardieu — son of Gerard — has died from “complications linked to a sudden case of pneumonia” in a Paris hospital. He was just 37.

For most of his acting career, Depardieu played broody, volatile types; if you had to cast the role of Scowly McSneerington and Romain Duris wasn’t available, he’d be your guy.

I’d been led to believe his performances were simply an extension of his personality, but recently — specifically, in Jacques Rivette’s “The Duchess of Langeais” (released in Toronto earlier this year) and Pierre Schoeller’s “Versailles” (which I saw at Cannes), he’d been hinting at deeper layers beneath the brooding volatility.

And now, the hints are all we’ll ever see.

“The Duchess of Langeais” was released on DVD in August. If you have a couple of free hours, bring it home and toast its star, who died just as he was on the verge of escaping his famous father’s shadow.

Ouch

Size matters notNo one should be terribly surprised that Ridley Scott isn’t quite the commerical hitmaker he presents himself to be.

I mean, believing that would require us to deliberately ignore most of his 1980s output, a good chunk of the 1990s and, oh, “A Good Year” and “Kingdom of Heaven”. And I’m not quite ready to forgive him “1492″ or “Legend”.

Still, it’s quite a surprise that “Body of Lies” had its clock cleaned this weekend, coming in third behind “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” and “Quarantine”.

If nothing else, I would have thought the combination of LEONARDO DiCAPRIO! and RUSSELL CROWE! and the high-gloss marketing push would have brought in the crowds — but I guess the 130-minute running time proved too much of a roadblock when going up against the two shorter films. Or maybe the analysts are right, and audiences just went for sheer escapism over Middle Eastern drama.

“Quarantine”, by the way, is pretty solid. If you’re a “[REC]” fan on the fence, it’s definitely worth your time.