Well, Hell

We are an awesome album coverSo, um, “Ghost Rider“.

Huge, huge hit.

Wow.

I mean, I admit I kinda enjoyed it; it may be very, very silly and pretty lame overall, but Nicolas Cage makes it worth watching through force of will alone.

But … really? People went to see it in droves?

Seriously, I figured “Music and Lyrics” would clobber it with Valentine’s Day afterglow alone. Or maybe there’s a lot of lonely, desperate comic-book geeks out there.

Actually, scratch that. Of course there’s a lot of lonely, desperate comic-book geeks out there. I just didn’t think they’d turn out for “Ghost Rider”. Especially once they factored “From the Director of ‘Daredevil’ ” into the equation.

Maybe they were all showing up for the “Spider-Man 3” trailer? I mean, I have to admit that one looks pretty awesome. And nobody’s head is on fire … that we know of.

Here We Go

No, we can't all just get alongFrom Engadget: The cheap Blu-ray players are coming — though by “cheap” they probably mean “somewhere in the neighborhood of a PS3”. Or, if you’re tracking this sort of thing, “still about $100 more expensive than an HD-DVD player”.

But it’s all about the appearance of a bargain, and next to the $1300 to $1500 sticker prices of the Sony, Panasonic and Pioneer boxes, a $600 player will certainly appear attractive.

Also, from Future Shop: The LG BH-100 combo player is coming to Canada … though it’ll cost a small fortune, and be known as the SMB-007 up here. Maybe they’re planning to bundle it with “Casino Royale”.

The Loneliest Awards

An industry award that opens letters rather than doorsThis week’s Sympatico/MSN movie column — it’s a direct link now — is about the Genies. Did you know they were held this past Tuesday? I almost didn’t, and I blame the media.

Also, it’s Friday! Movies are opening! Specifically:

Breach“: Billy Ray follows “Shattered Glass” with another movie about guys in ties who argue about lies. This one’s pretty gripping, too.

Breaking and Entering“: Anthony Minghella is a charming and intelligent man, who has made the mistake of writing his own script.

Bridge to Terabithia“: Or, what happens when marketing makes promises a movie can’t keep. And Walden Media — already overdoing the Christian thing after “Narnia” and “Charlotte’s Web” — really has to throttle back on the piety.

“Ghost Rider”: Screened too late for opening-day coverage; my Metro review will run on Monday. Yeah, it’s silly and incoherent and ridiculous and dumb as a box of rocks. But someday, they will write songs about Nicolas Cage’s magnificent, magnificent performance.

Rock on, Nicolas Cage, you spectacular comic-book bastard.

Further Proof That the World is Awesome

Jagshemesh! I come to eat you!If you missed it on BoingBoing earlier this week, here’s the link to a brilliant discussion of the physiological impossibility of Godzilla. It’s the expected pronouncement: He’d be too big to support his own weight, the reactor burning inside him would kill him, yadda yadda yadda. Sigh.

But read the comments for some intriguing explanations as to how a giant radioactive dinosaur- lizard-thingie might be able to exist in our world. (A nuclear process that suffuses his blood with helium would allow him to stand on city streets without collapsing into the subway below, for example.)

And here’s a fascinating Writer’s Guild magazine interview with the “Borat” writers, including Sacha Baron Cohen (via car phone, as he looks for a parking space in Los Angeles). Turns out there’s more screenwriting to it than one might initially believe.

And yes, this post is a subtle push for the ultimate crossover sequel: “Borat Meets Godzilla”. Who wouldn’t want to see that?

Love is Fun

Oh, hang on a minute, I think I've come up with something funnierMetro hasn’t put my review of “Music and Lyrics” online — the web guys are probably stuck in snow traffic on their way to work — but you can find it in the PDF version of the paper, if you’re willing to endure the 6MB download.

UPDATE: Here’s the review.

Bottom line? Grant and Barrymore have exceptional chemistry, and the songs — courtesy Fountains of Wayne power-pop savant Adam Schlesinger — are catchy and clever. But the script and direction are sub-par at best; characters speak exclusively in exposition, the plot assembles itself in front of us like a bad sitcom, and every single beat of the action is so clumsily telegraphed that there’s no pleasure to be had in the experience of watching it unfold.

And yet, somehow, it’s okay. Grant and Barrymore make it work by just powering through whatever’s in front of them, tossing off silly little moments in the corners of the action and generally refusing to acknowledge they’re trapped in a real-life version of “Love is Fun”, the banal Richard Gere-Julia Roberts romcom from that “Simpsons” episode where Homer gets the crayon removed from his brain and realizes he can no longer tolerate the banality of his favorite crowd-pleasing entertainments.

Marc Lawrence — the Sandra Bullock crony who gave us “Forces of Nature”, “Miss Congeniality” and “Two Weeks Notice” — has to be stopped. But Grant and Barrymore should be given their own franchise.

Come to think of it, they’d be perfect for a period revival of the “Thin Man” movies. Can we get somebody on that?

Sigh Definition

I am 480p, but I have an extra documentaryHey, “The Departed” arrives on DVD today! Someone should write a column about it or something!

(Although they should probably come up with a better name for that column than “DVDrop”. Doesn’t please the eye, somehow.)

In addition to the standard DVD release, “The Departed” is also arriving on both high-definition formats today, wading right into the middle of the latest developments in the format war.

See, yesterday Sony saw fit to declare to the world that the high-def format war has ended, and Blu-ray — which just happens to be Sony’s bestest widdle baby — has won.

It’s just like the statement from the Blu-ray group last month at CES, which said the same thing. Except that, y’know, in neither case did anybody provide any real evidence to support the statement.

It’s just, like, a feeling, man.

Of course, one element of Blu-ray’s swagger has always been the promise of an enhanced copy protection, called BD+, that will add another layer of defensive power to the AACS copyguard present on all high-definition discs. Funny thing, though; while I’d mistakenly believed that BD+ was already present on Blu-ray titles, it turns out the protection has yet to be applied to any releases … meaning that Blu-ray’s added level of security — which was surely a big part of the format’s appeal to its many studio partners — is just a bit of elegant marketing spin.

Imagine how those studio partners must feel now that AACS has been cracked. Actually, it’s more like it’s been surgically removed, since the process requires no actual hackery, just careful observation of a given computer’s memory to find the master processing key for AACS itself, rather than the AACS encryption protecting a specific disc.

(Sweet Jebus, is there nothing Norwegian teenagers can’t do?)

Still, I can’t imagine this will be a body blow to either format, any more than the release of DeCSS and the subsequent flood of ripping programs crippled DVD in its heyday. Both formats are still in the “Ask Again Later” category, as far as I can tell; each has its merits, each has its drawbacks, and almost a year into their respective runs, neither has found the killer app that’s really grabbed consumers’ attention.

Then again, “Casino Royale” comes to Blu-ray in four weeks. Can the HD-DVD of “Man of the Year” really compete with that? And truly, do we want to live in a world where it does?

Piano Man

And the beat goes onIt was just last month that I mentioned having interviewed Joe Hunter when he came to Toronto with two of his fellow Funk Brothers, Jack Ashford and Bob Babbitt, with “Standing in the Shadows of Motown”; total bummer, then, to wake up this morning and learn Joe had died on Friday died last week.

No, the death of an old man is not a tragedy, but it can still be cause for some mourning; Joe and his fellow Funks remained absolutely vital well into their senior years, still touring and I was kinda hoping to see the Funks in concert one of these days.

The act won’t be the same without him; he was a genuine character; an ebullient, elegant man who’d give a bear hug to a starstruck thirtysomething journalist when he ran into him unexpectedly the next day in a hotel lobby.

But more to the point, he was also an incredible pianist, and so influential on the Motown Sound that none of the obits I’ve read have felt the need to jog readers’ memories by leading off with any of the specific songs to which he contributed.

It’s just not necessary: You say “Motown”, and he’s what you hear.

This Can’t Be Good for Anybody

Satan wants my soul now?In this weekend’s battle of the big-screen fiends, Eddie Murphy’s “Norbit” is the clear winner, having outgrossed “Hannibal Rising” by a cool twenty million.

I use “outgrossed” in the financial sense, although it’s also true that “Norbit” is far more sickening, disturbing and just plain evil than the movie about the guy who kills people and eats their faces.

You can’t fault “Hannibal Rising” for being what it is. It’s just a dumb animal — a brand extension, an attempt to milk a franchise that’s long since lost its relevance and its urgency. In an age of constant media-hyped terror, how can a courtly, erudite European compete with suitcase nukes and Mooninites? Even Sylar on “Heroes” is a creepier brain-eater than the good doctor Lecter, though his cannibalism is still strictly theoretical.

Nah, people were bound to be drawn to “Norbit“, which arrives in a perfect storm of buzz. Eddie Murphy’s the front-runner for an Oscar, Martin Lawrence and Tyler Perry have made it okay to laugh at morbidly obese black women, and the trailer — in which Murphy can clearly be seen playing multiple grotesqueries, rather than a cheerful suburban patriarch — assures his fans that, at the very least, that this won’t be another “Daddy Day Care”.

Well, it isn’t. After the longish prologue, there’s not an adorable tyke to be found, and there are no bed-wetting jokes. But it’s just as torturous, and you leave the theater feeling dirty.

I know, I know. It’s just a comedy. People just want to laugh when they go to the movies.

But why are they laughing at this?

Everything Old is … Still Kinda Old, Actually

Oh, shut the hell up about the ChiantiOh, Friday. How I love you, with your relaxing lack of deadlines, because I spent all of Thursday working to meet them …

Factory Girl“: Sienna Miller is Edie Sedgwick, and Guy Pearce her pale little artist friend, and George Hickenlooper is out of his depth as a filmmaker. The sets and costumes are great, but nothing happens inside that perfectly re-created frame; it’s less a movie than a series of mod dresses strung out on a clothesline.

Hannibal Rising“: Just weeks after “Perfume”, here’s another movie built about an intense, thin European fellow who has the unfortunate habit of killing people. At least this one is well-groomed. It’s entirely unnecessary from start to finish, but you know it’ll open at number one. How critic-proof is it? Read this.

The Lives of Others“: After months of raves on the festival circuit, and that much-deserved Oscar nomination Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s excellent, excellent movie finally gets the chance to make a little money. And the first person who says he doesn’t like subtitles gets a smack in the mouth.

Norbit“: Monstrous fat women, simpering weak men and elderly, obnoxious Chinese caricatures: This is what Eddie Murphy thinks is funny. It’ll probably make a fortune, but in a just and decent world, it would be chased out of theaters by angry mobs.

Sk8 Life“: Local director S. Wyeth Clarkson (“Deadend.com”) makes another run at quasi-verite digital introspection, this time among some skate punks in Vancouver. The camerawork is pretty good. The acting? Not so much.

My other other gig.