Strong Leadership

From humble beginnings a great man may riseOnce upon a time, he was but a lowly correspondent for some basic cable-comedy show. And now, not only does he have his own show on that same basic-cable network, but his vital contribution to American culture is being acknowledged as it deserves to be: Merriam-Webster has named Stephen Colbert’s “Truthiness” the Word of the Year.

They’ll be celebrating at Colbert Nation all week, I’m sure. Just as soon as they decide whether Merriam-Webster is a liberal organization.

Not Terribly Important, But …

All the News That Hix Would NixFor years, the Variety website was a source of magnificent frustration for people like me, who can willingly lose hours — or even days — wallowing in industry coverage.

Magnificent, because the coverage is indeed insanely detailed (and I love that kitschy jargony zing) … and frustrating, because of the site’s subscription firewall, which demanded $300 a year for unlimited access. You could get a two-week trial if you were willing to supply an e-mail address, but after about four months I ran out of aliases.

Point is, they finally came around, and Variety.com is now fully accessible through an ad-supported model. They’re not even those annoying full-page interrupts; just unobtrusive banner ads, usually pushing a movie for Oscar consideration. (Today, for instance, it’s Universal’s “United 93“.)

Anyway, I’ve just found this weekend’s box-office stats, which are really depressing: “Apocalypto” came in at number one, which means Mel Gibson will be able to make another one of his high-toned splatter fests somewhere down the line. (“The Holiday” is number two, which at least slows Nancy Meyers’ insidious momentum for now.)

So, yay! Variety’s back! And just in time for me to read up on the upcoming Palm Springs International Film Festival — on account of I’ve just been invited to sit on the FIPRESCI jury at the 2007 edition.

Eleven days in California. In early January. Maybe things really are starting to turn around.

The Weekly Load

Mel's gone crazy! Can you dig it?Friday means movies! December means Oscars! And Christmas family comedies with half of “The Daily Show” in them! (As soon as my Metro reviews go live, I’ll add the links.) UPDATE: Links finally live!

Apocalypto“: In which Mayans slaughter one another for Mel Gibson’s entertainment, and because they’re all heathens who’ve never accepted Christ as their savior, well, it doesn’t matter how horribly they suffer.

Blood Diamond“: In which, once again, white people look on unhappily as very bad things happen to black people. Also, Leonardo DiCaprio says “bra” at the end of every sentence, Jennifer Connelly literally phones in her big scene, and Edward Zwick spends a buttload of money on a movie designed to caution people about spending buttloads of money. On diamonds. It’s all so “Die Another Day”, you know?

The Holiday“: In which Nancy Meyers tries to convince me that Kate Winslet is a dumpy doormat, that Jack Black is unironically playing a romantic lead, and that Cameron Diaz can drink and drive and not remind me of “In Her Shoes”. This is one of those movies that ends with everybody dancing happily around the living room, and generally triggers my gag reflex every six or seven minutes.

Unaccompanied Minors“: “The Breakfast Club” meets “Home Alone” in this very broad comedy about kids running wild in a snowbound airport, and yet this is the most satisfying release of the week. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is, and still manages to cast an interesting person in every adult speaking part. Seriously. Sandra Tsing Loh turns up in a three-line bit. And any movie that reunites three of the five Kids in the Hall for a game of musical chairs is okay by me.

Six more days to the first TFCA ballot. Boy, I hope they screen “Night at the Museum” before our voting deadline …

Blu-ray Crisis Post #11,372

Please stop hurting meEngadget posts a link to a survey it says suggests Sony’s proprietary contender is being dissed mightily in the high-def format war, but the spin is kind of weird, with the author apparently relaying the idea that gamers are upset at being “forced” to buy a Blu-ray drive in their PlayStation 3s.

I have to wonder: Are gamers really complaining about that? Or was the question in the survey designed to generate that response?

“The Xbox 360’s HD-DVD drive is an external option; would you have preferred to save $200 by purchasing a PS3 without a Blu-ray drive?”

Look, I’m the first to say that Sony’s technological developments have been endlessly undermined by its business administration, but this seems like a bit of a stretch. And Darren Murph’s contention in the Engadget piece that Sony’s previous innovations have failed to catch on is an outright misrepresentation: Betamax and MiniDisc didn’t break through to consumers, but they’re still essential tools for broadcast journalists.

The ATRAC codec, though, that just sucked. And let’s not even talk about UMD.

Work Work Work

We're newspapermen! Our shirts are rumpled and everything!I’m pushing through the usual wad of reviews for tomorrow’s Metro, so I’m a little busy at the moment, but I am obliged to point out that the trailer for David Fincher’s “Zodiac” is online at Apple’s Quicktime site, and it’s quite the thing — especially, um, if one’s new laptop can play an HD feed.

Yes, I procrastinate. And I’m really good at it.

Topical Depression

Back in the shell gameTrying to come up with something to blog about today, but the weather — along with the movie I saw this afternoon — has ground me down to a fine paste.

This is cool, though; I even hadn’t realized the Gamera franchise was coming back. Apparently the producers are taking the character back to kid-friendliness, which is a little disappointing after the intensity of the previous Gamera pictures. (Have you seen “Revenge of Iris”? Seriously, it takes some huge balls to crucify a giant turtle.)

And speaking of giant monsters, that DVD of “The Host” I mentioned yesterday is indeed legit — the official Korean disc was released this week, and is starting to turn up in Toronto’s Chinatown. There might be pirated versions around, though, so make sure to patronize a trusted retailer.

A Moral Dilemma

Oh, this is not goodBong Joon-Ho’s “The Host” is one of the year’s best movies — not just the Godzilla movie we’ve been waiting for all our lives, but a slashing social comedy and a gripping family drama besides.

Of course, it won’t make it onto my ten-best list, since that list is composed exclusively of films that managed to open theatrically in the calendar year. There was some buzz about a late-fall release when Magnolia picked up the North American rights … but now they’re just sitting on it, as far as I know.

So what am I to do about this, which is on sale just a couple of blocks from my house?

Sometimes, life is hard.

It’s a Struggle

About twenty years back, at the height of the last horror boom, Anthony Perkins gave an interview about the importance of killing off absolutely every single character — otherwise, some clever writer would find a way to bring them back for another unnecessary sequel.

I mean, what if the dog lives? he pointed out. The dog’s still alive! He’ll go off with a new family and the monster will go after them in the next movie!

I think it was an interview with Fangoria. They frequently got quotes like that.

I bring this up because I have seen “Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj“, which couldn’t get Ryan Reynolds to reprise the role of Van Wilder and so fashioned a sequel around the character’s dog, who goes off to a stuffy English college — accompanied by Kal Penn’s character, Taj, because the dog would get kind of boring after a while.

Sadly, Tara Reid does not return to stalk them.

Also, my reviews of “The Hamster Cage” and “Unnatural & Accidental” are online, if you need any further elaboration beyond Friday’s capsules.

You don’t, though.

Byte Me

Don't take that hipster pose with me, sonny jimSorry for the lack of updates this weekend … I brought a new laptop home yesterday, and I’ve been transferring files over for what seems like an eternity. You know that Windows XP Files and Settings Transfer Wizard thingie? It’s just a nasty little tease.

And no, thank you, I do not need to get a Mac. Hell, that campaign’s probably responsible for more people deciding to stick with the PC platform than anything Microsoft’s ever done. All hail Hodgman.

Check back in tomorrow for my review of “Van Wilder 2”. Short version: You might as well take your $14 and set it on fire. Those few fleeting seconds of incendiary brilliance will be far more entertaining than watching poor Kal Penn try to maintain his self-respect for an hour and a half.

Early Doldrums

The kid is not my son?Time was, the first weekend of December was a cinematic dead zone. Nothing of substance opened; the studios were waiting for their big Thanksgiving pictures to settle down, and it was too early to trot out the Oscar contenders.

This year, it’s still a dead zone … but there are seven movies opening anyway, since everything that opened last week has already had its chance to grab your movie dollar.

Factotum“: Matt Dillon is remarkably good as Charles Bukowski’s fictional alter ego, wobbling through a series of crappy jobs (and worse relationships) in the service of his art. It’ll be huge at campus film societies, just you watch.

Fuck“: It’s the most popular profanity in the English language, and Steve Anderson’s lightweight but engaging documentary allows several dozen celebrity talking heads to use it — or refuse it — at their pleasure. Kevin Smith, Billy Connolly and Drew Carey have the best anecdotes, of course.

“The Hamster Cage”: Larry Kent, the original bad boy of Canadian cinema — really, it’s in the press release — returns to filmmaking after a long absence with a dreadful DV comedy that tries to combine “The Celebration” and “Pet Sematary”. I think. Anyway, it’s atrocious. (Review not yet posted on Metro.)

The Nativity Story“: Catherine Hardwicke, the posturing hack behind “Thirteen” and “Lords of Dogtown”, reinvents herself as a provider of wholesome Christian haigiography. I thought politics was the last refuge of the scoundrel.

Turistas“: More cautionary sado-porn about American idiots in foreign lands, jazzed up slightly by the unquestionable professionalism of director John Stockwell, who took the gig because it offered him a couple of elaborate underwater sequences. Because, you know, that’s what people want to see in a torture movie.

“Unnatural & Accidental”: While Carmen Moore wanders the streets of Vancouver looking for her vanished mother, Callum Keith Rennie hits the bars encouraging Native women to drink themselves to death in his presence. Naturally, this is an indictment of us all, or something. (Review not yet posted on Metro.)

Number seven is “Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj”, which wasn’t screened for critics (huge shocker there), but I’ll be catching it later this afternoon.

You know, I could really use an Oscar contender right about now.

My other other gig.