Back to Normal

News, in tiny little bite-sized thingiesHome for twelve hours, and I’m already racing to catch up with myself — CTV NewsNet is having me on in the 10:30 AM block to discuss the Golden Globes, which means I have to get there in about fifteen minutes. So, well, check it out if you’ve got cable. In the Toronto area, Rogers subscribers can find it on channel 62.

And as far as the Globes … “Babel”? “Dreamgirls”? Really?

Eastbound and Down

Sing John Denver and I'll slap youThe Palm Springs film festival, she is concluded, and we have our winners:

Best Foreign Language Film

Pan’s Labyrinth, directed by Guillermo del Toro

Best Actor

Mads Mikkelsen, “After the Wedding”

Best Actress

Blanca Lewin, “In Bed”

You can find more specific coverage, including my expanded review of “Pan’s Labyrinth”, as it goes up at the FIPRESCI site. Now, however, it is time to crawl into bed and get as much sleep as we can before the obscenely early wake-up call, and then it’s off to Toronto with the customary bagful of American candy.

(It turns out they still sell mint chocolate M&Ms at Christmas … just not in Canada. But now they’re really cheap!)

I am such a six-year-old sometimes. But a six-year-old who gives prizes.

Playing the Away Game

Hey, is that Ryan Phillippe? I love that guy!Sure, I’m on the other side of the continent, but the world keeps turning, and there are plenty of movies opening this week.

Arthur and the Invisibles“: The ascent of one-note child actor Freddie Highmore may finally be thwarted with the release Luc Besson’s messy, spastic kid’s film, in which Highmore discovers a magical world of computer-generated elves in his grandparents’ backyard, or something. Creepy auteurist note: The love interest voiced by Madonna is a dead ringer for Milla Jovovich in Besson’s “The Fifth Element”. Eew.

Fired!“: A personal documentary from actor Annabelle Gurwitch, who got fired from a Woody Allen play and turned them lemons into lemonade (and a profitable franchise; there’s also a “Fired!” book and a stage show). At the Royal through Monday; tonight’s screening also serves as a book launch.

Letters from Iwo Jima“: Clint Eastwood’s bookend to “Flags of Our Fathers” has an intimacy and a focus that eluded its predecessor, suggesting that this is the movie Eastwood wanted to make all along, and the other was just a contractual obligation. Moody and slow and heartbreaking, and beautiful to regard … it’s got “boffo box office” written all over it!

Miss Potter“: Beatrix Potter spent her days playing with her imaginary friends and telling her stuffy parents she didn’t need to marry. Charming fantasist or unmedicated schizophrenic? Chris Noonan’s fluffy, pointless costume drama is hell-bent on selling us the former interpretation, with Renee Zellweger bustling about while Ewan McGregor and Emily Watson look on admiringly.

Stomp the Yard“: What would happen if you threw “Footloose”, “Rize” and “You Got Served” into a blender? Finally, we have an answer to the question that’s haunted America for years …

Catching “Primeval” today or tomorrow … did you know it’s about a crocodile? Because it is.

Street Party

I am my own paparazzoThe movies are screened. The deliberations are over. It’s time to experience Palm Springs proper-like.

Which means that this morning, I accompanied fellow juror Gregory Valens to breakfast at the International House of Pancakes, which was something he’d wanted to do ever since we arrived.

Ah, IHOP. One forgets the allure of the unlimited buttermilk pancakes and the never-empty coffee urn. But one quickly remembers the strawberry syrup, which looks and pours like some sort of synthetic plasma.

After that, we rejoined the rest of our party for an afternoon at wrangler Ken’s house in nearby Palm Desert, where we were treated to some very nice red wine (cultivated, as it turned out, by his son).

And in the evening, Ken accompanied me and Gregory in a wander through Palm Springs’ weekly street festival. Called the VillageFest, it covers about six city blocks with a very entertaining mixture of artisans, entertainers, produce vendors and concession stands — roasted corn, handmade fudge, fresh dates, exquisite Belgian hot chocolate.

Best of all, there were dogs, lots of dogs — all of them wandering along the asphalt, instead of the sidewalk, sharing furtive looks, like they knew they were getting away with something.

I’m off to another party in half an hour (it’s a hard life, this jury duty), and then I’ll hopefully get a good night’s sleep before Kate arrives tomorrow, the better to put the “vacation” back into “working vacation”.

That’ll be nice, too.

Dust and Awe

Rock! Rock! Rock! Rock!We’re out the other side of our movie gauntlet, and to celebrate our having survived the pounding of the last few days, our jury wrangler — whose name, incidentally, is Ken Dorf, and who has demonstrated himself to be a very accommodating and infinitely patient host — drove us out to Joshua Tree National Park this afternoon.

Wow.

It was my first trip into real desert, and it was spectacular. I can’t really convey the scale of it, or the eerie sense that everything I was looking at had been exactingly composed. Don’t get freaked out; this was hardly a religious awakening, just that human impulse to impose order on an alien sight, the way the mind organizes random shapes into recognizable anatomy. Still, it was a very strange feeling.

We spent a lot of time gawking at the immensity of it all, then taking pictures of everything we could. I found the cholla cactus particularly fascinating; puffy and bright with color, it’s like a hostile desert plant designed by Muppets. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s commonly known as the “teddybear” cactus.)

Then there was the vast rock field, part of something called a “contact zone” — which, if I understood the brochure correctly, is the result of an 85-million-year-old belch of magma somewhere beneath the planet’s surface that slowly worked its way up to become part of the landscape, cooling into granite on the way.

And now dopes like me get to walk all over it, looking for bobcats. Didn’t see any, though.

Oh, It’s On

What do you say, baby? Feel like making up?Just in case you think I’ve been shirking my duties as a DVD enthusiast while I’m away in Palm Springs, here’s some interesting news from CES: Warner Home Video announced that it’ll be shipping its dual-format high-definition DVDs in the second half of this year.

Not a dual-format player, mind you, but a dual-format disc — one that contains both Blu-ray and HD-DVD versions of a given movie. They’re calling it THD, for “Total High Def”, and it’s an elegant compromise in the format war, since anyone who’s already picked a side no longer has to worry about his format of choice going extinct … but it’s no dual-format player.

Fortunately, this is. Kinda clunky-looking, though, and pretty obviously constructed around this DVD-ROM drive. It’s also a little pricey at $1200 USD; I’m thinking we might want to wait for the inevitable Chinese unit, which will surely arrive within a few months and compensate for its inelegance with a far smaller price tag.

One more Engadget story: Blu-ray has called “Mission Accomplished” on the whole format war. I think that might be a little premature, but it does seem to me that HD-DVD is lagging pretty far behind in studio support these days.

Because I Got High

If you squint, you can see my obligationsThis is not a codeine post, although my toothache is a little better today, thanks to the antibiotics and a carefully calibrated schedule of painkillers. (There should be a very small window between one Fun Size Advil wearing off and the next one kicking in, and I am doing my best to nail that sucker shut.)

No, this is a post about going up a mountain. Which we did this afternoon, thanks to that schedule change I mentioned in yesterday’s post. The photograph to the right was taken about 9000 feet above the desert floor, on Mt. San Jacinto.

To get there, you have to take a tram. This is a very impressive cable car thing that takes about ten minutes to go from the lower station (elevation: 2600 feet) to the upper station (8500 feet), and offers a spectacular view of the mountain ranges encircling the Palm Springs area. It also lets you determine which of your fellow jurors are acrophobic, and which of them delight in torturing the acrophobe.

Once you’re up there, you put on the warm jacket you were instructed to bring — it being a full season cooler up at the top — and you go wandering along a trail looking for bobcats. You don’t find any, because bobcats aren’t stupid and stay well away from people, but you enjoy yourself anyway. You also wonder if maybe your painkiller-addled brain is reacting to the altitude, but things seem to be going fine.

About half an hour of trudging and slipping later (and to think I considered leaving my Blundstones at home), you round a bend and find yourself atop an outcropping, staring out at the desert below. You think: Wow, this elevation even makes the desert look pretty. And then: I wonder how far my spit would go if I leaned all the way forward and really made an effort.

It’s at this point that you realize you are not at your best, and slowly settle back on the big rock, and let someone take your picture. And then you trudge back to the cable car, and go back to the film festival.

Pressure

Everything's bigger in AmericaSorry I didn’t post an update yesterday — the schedule was pretty crowded, with five movies in 12 hours, but then I had to squeeze in an emergency trip to the dentist.

The tooth is back.

Well, not back, exactly, but back to being a problem. It started feeling irritated again on Saturday, and by yesterday it was a full-on throbbing horror, so our increasingly invaluable jury wrangler found me a dental clinic just a couple of blocks from our hotel — and from the Regal, which was hosting three of our five films.

A couple of X-rays confirmed the diagnosis: Infection, swelling, serious pain, just like last time. And just like last time, I was given a prescription for antibiotics and megadoses of ibuprofen, though this time the very nice dentist threw in a few Tylenol 3s to help me sleep through the night. (He offered Vicodin first, but after seeing what it’s done to that nice Dr. House, I asked for something with a little less kick.)

So I’m a pillhead again, though I’m being careful to stay off the heavy stuff during the day. Not that certain titles wouldn’t have been improved if viewed through a narcotic haze, mind you.

A schedule adjustment has reduced today’s load to four films rather than five, so that’s a relief. And the antibiotics should start to kick in tonight.

That will be nice.

Watch Out for Snakes!

Casey Affleck's out here somewhereIndian movie, not so great. But Indian Canyons — now, that was something.

If one is very lucky, FIPRESCI jury duty isn’t all movies and lattes; sometimes, one gets to experience a little of the host city beyond its megaplexes and coffee shops. There won’t be any of that tomorrow or Tuesday, but today our gracious jury wrangler took us out to the wilds for a mile-long hike along the foot trail through Andreas Canyon.

(Well, all of us except for one member who’s recuperating from a back injury, and really wouldn’t have been up for scuttling over rock outcroppings for an hour and a half. But the rest of us managed.)

I’ve been out to California a few times before, but never had the experience of going out to the raw earth … there’s nothing like this in L.A. or San Francisco, and Santa Barbara, on its wide, flat mesa, didn’t offer much in the way of angled hiking.

This, though … this was the West, or at least the West the way it was in every cowboy movie I saw as a kid — brush and cactus and sagebrush and sawgrass, all surrounded by magnificent rock formations and dotted with holes where the rattlers have made their burrows. And every ten minutes, all the minor struggling was rewarded with another gorgeous vista.

I’m not an outdoorsy guy. But this has been the highlight of my trip so far. After this, it seems almost wasteful to spend so much time indoors, watching movies and drinking coffee.

That said, it’s been pretty good coffee. And tonight’s party is at an Italian restaurant, which seems like a very good idea: All that walking can give a dude a powerful thirst.

I’ll do my best to strike a balance, somehow. And I’ll keep you posted.

Party All the Time

Later, I went out and assassinated a foreign operativeThe demands of a film-festival juror are very difficult. You start your morning with a two-hour Filipino melodrama about a 12-year-old aspiring ladyboy with a criminal family who develops a crush on the understanding new policeman in the neighborhood.

Then — because you’re kind of an idiot — you pass up a beautiful California afternoon outdoors to see David Lynch’s three-hour sketchbook “Inland Empire”, even though it’s not eligible for your award, and even though it becomes apparent well within the first act that the man’s creativity is running on fumes.

Afterward, because you need to clear your head a bit, you walk back to the hotel and put on your monkey suit, because it’s time for the black-tie Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala, a four-hour orgy of awards, alcohol and really splendid food.

Continue reading Party All the Time

My other other gig.