Return to the Planet of the Summer of the Blockbusters

Yup, still webbyJust quickly: If you’re near a television this evening, spin up CTV Newsnet after 10 pm EDT; they’re having me on to talk about the big summer movies, because there’s still ever so much to say about those. (In the Toronto area, it’s channel 62 on your cable box.)

Also, Sympatico/MSN has not one but two new think-pieces up today: My picks for the top ten summer blockbusters, and a meditation on the best superhero movies not based on any comic-book source.

I do so love this job.


Also, it now seems I have x-ray visionI don’t want to say “Spider-Man 3” is a dud, because I don’t believe that it is … but it’s a big, overstuffed mess, and the good stuff is harder and harder to remember a week after the screening. Still, you’ll probably see it. Everyone will probably see it. And James Franco will get some heat off his work. So there’s that.

Not that there’s anything else that offers real competition this week …

Away From Her“: Sarah Polley’s feature directorial debut, an adaptation of an Alice Munro short story about a couple dealing with the onset of Alzheimer’s, is deeply felt and compassionate, and Gordon Pinsent is terrific in it. (Julie Christie, not so much, but that’s got more to do with the limitations of her character.) But it’s still just a highbrow TV-movie, and will be just as effective on cable.

Civic Duty“: Speaking of cable, here’s “Six Feet Under” star Peter Krause as a (possibly) paranoid accountant who becomes convinced his dark-skinned new neighbor is planning an act of terror. The first half of the picture is effective and creepily ambiguous; the second is what happens when either a screenwriter or director gets nervous that people won’t see his point, and artificially amps up the tension. Ah, well.

The Flying Scotsman“: Jonny Lee Miller does grit very well, playing Graeme Obree, a Scots cyclist who does not fly, but did set a couple of world speed records. It’s an interesting fusion of “The World’s Fastest Indian” and “Shine”, demonstrating that the English and the Irish don’t hold the patent on manipulative template cinema.

Inland Empire“: In which David Lynch gives his unconscious mind a camcorder, and somehow talks Laura Dern into doing whatever comes to mind for three hours. Some people are saying it’s an utter masterpiece from one of the last real American mavericks; me, I felt like he’d been playing the same tricks in “Mulholland Drive” and “Lost Highway”, and even in “Twin Peaks”, and that the law of diminishing returns is finally catching up to him.

Lucky You“: Curtis Hanson made this between “8 Mile” and “In Her Shoes”, and saw it shelved for a couple of years while Warner tried to figure out how to dump it. But this is not one of those unjustly discarded character pieces that someday finds a following; this is a real dog of a movie, with a central romantic relationship that simply does not convince, a secondary father-son relationship that seems only slightly more believable, and lots and lots of poker. Remember when Eric Bana was the next big thing? Yeah, me neither.

The Valet“: How stereotypical is this Francis Veber farce about French people engaged in a series of frauds and distractions in order to preserve the illicit relationship between a tycoon and his supermodel mistress? Someone actually says “Ooh, la-la, la-la” in this one. The sixteen people who kept “La Cage aux Folles” running for two years are going to love this, assuming they haven’t already died of old age.

Off to another screening … try and get some sun this weekend, would you?

Alert the CDC

The voices! I keep hearing the voices!Apparently “Babel” comes with health advisories in Japan. Something about patrons complaining of nausea and headaches after theatrical screenings.

When I saw the film, I had very different symptoms; I wanted to punch Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu in the face about every twenty minutes.

Just saying they might want to put that on the sticker, too.

News Travels Fast

Uh-ohAs far as I can tell, this is how it happened.

Somebody submits a story about the breaking of the HD-DVD AACS key code to Digg. The story includes the actual code, which — as Mike pointed out in an e-mail — looks like a string of creepy numbers from “Lost”. (My first thought was that it was someone’s home WEP key.)
The Digg story gets Digged (Dugg?) by something like 15,000 users.

Digg cites intellectual property and deletes the story.

Digg catches on fire.

Okay, not on fire. But there were a lot of raging geeks yelling about the end of Web 2.0 and the death of free speech and all sorts of other 21st-century concerns. Even Digg seems to understand that the yanking of a geek news story is a bad idea these days, as far as optics go.

But at the risk of being branded a cranky old contrarian who just doesn’t get it, man, I’d like to ask one question: How is the revelation of the HD-DVD AACS key world news? How many of us are going to run to our local Best Buy and grab that HD-DVD disc of “Alpha Dog” and bring it home to share it with the online downloading community? Who’s got the time? Who’s got the bandwidth?

… okay, I understand what’s really at stake here. Studios won’t support either of the high-def DVD formats if they don’t think they’re secure, and DRM is all there is between their precious 18 GB movie files and hundreds of thousands of hungry, freeloading college students. So the perception of security is at least as important as actual security.

But here’s the thing: DRM — that’s Digital Rights Management, for those of you without the nerd phrasebook — always gets cracked. There are literally dozens of ripping programs available for standard DVD now, and people still walk into stores and buy those discs by the millions every week. People who download pirated movies will always be a niche market; the trick is to keep legitimate consumers buying the best possible product.

I am not naive enough to believe I’ve just solved the piracy problem. But I do think things would be better if certain forces just acknowledged that some piracy is inevitable, and stopped treating the rest of the public like shifty loiterers just waiting for the chance to snap up some free stuff while the corporate back is turned. It spawns an uncomfortable culture of intimidation that allows stuff like this Digg thing to happen.

Also, I’d really like that HD-DVD edition of “Shaun of the Dead”, and ain’t no stinking pirate gonna stand in my way.

Back on Track

I see a world where people appreciate grim dramasThe flu seems to be over, at long last — my head’s clear and my aches are minimal and I’ve gone two days without needing a mid-afternoon nap.

So now I’m jumping back into the world, with the writing and the watching and the waiting to hear back from Sanyo about my poor little projector.

No real news to report, but my new DVD column is up at Sympatico/MSN, so if you were looking for another reason to watch “Little Children”, by all means check it out.

April is the Cruelest Month

Not an exact re-creationYou know what’s worse than realizing that your cold has been the flu all along?

It’s accepting that you’re still going to be under the weather for a few days, and then having your projector blow its bulb right before the second half of that really great two-part “Nature” look at the genesis of the modern dog. (Border collies look awesome in high-def.)

So. Now I have to spend half the day stumbling around the city, looking for a replacement bulb. But first I have to finish tomorrow’s DVD column, of course. I will be exhausted by teatime. I am pathetic.

Also, I managed to drag myself to see “The Invisible” and “Kickin’ it Old Skool” over the weekend. Learn from my misfortune.

I, the Jury

My guilt obscures my squinterShameless self-promotion alert: I’m part of the interview package on tonight’s “Saturday Night at the Movies“, discussing “Witness for the Prosecution” and “The Ox-Bow Incident” along with Clayton Ruby and the National Post’s Chris Knight.

It’s part of their “Cinema in the Courtroom” double-bill, and if you find yourself wondering how “The Ox-Bow Incident” — a Western drama about a posse that turns into a lynch mob — fits the bill as a courtroom drama, well, that’s what makes these shows interesting.

“Witness” starts at 8 pm, and the first interview segment runs immediately afterward, at 10; “Ox-Bow” starts at 10:25, with the second interview segment at 11:40.

I seem to remember being articulate, but I have no idea what they’re going to use …

Minor Frustrations

My hotness is my strongest weaponWell, that’s annoying.

The blog seems to be intermittently online, which is annoying enough, but Metro hasn’t put any of today’s reviews online, so there’s nothing to link to. Aargh.

Also, I’m still a little sick. Kate thinks it’s the flu. She may have a point; surely a cold would have let up by now.

Anyway, here’s the link-free critical synopsis for your movie weekend:

“Black Book”: Paul Verhoeven follows in Polanski’s footsteps, returning home to tell a Holocaust story. But he’s Paul Verhoeven, so instead of a muted, despairing drama, we get a mildly insane adventure story about a Jewish singer (Carice van Houten) who reinvents herself as an Aryan wet dream to infiltrate the occupation. Oh, Paul.

“The Condemned”: WWE Films strives for relevance with this actioner about ten death-row convicts assembled to battle to the death on a remote island, for the viewing pleasure of the entire Internet. The last one standing gets to go free. Yep, it’s “Battle Royale” for dummies — or “Man Bites Dog” for people who can’t process irony.

“Everything’s Gone Green”: The big deal about this slight romantic comedy is that it was written by Douglas Coupland, one-time master of the zeitgeist. Now, apparently, he’s content to crank out the kind of pandering, unimaginative product his characters would have dismissed back in the day — “You Know, Reality Also Bites in Vancouver”. Good to see Paulo Costanzo bouncing back after “Joey”, though.

“Next”: Nicolas Cage can see two minutes into the future. Julianne Moore wants him to use this power to prevent nuclear terrorism. This seems entirely reasonable to me, but he’s not into it, so there’s a lot of running and chasing, and Jessica Biel in a towel. I’ve never seen a movie flip onto its back and wet itself in helpless surrender before. That counts for something.

Down With the Sickness

Ah-AAAAAHHHI don’t get colds all that often — I’m usually lucky enough to escape with a couple days’ of a runny nose — so it’s been rather humbling to have been laid the f*ck out by this year’s model.

Chills, aches, sweats, the works … you know when your immune system is so battered, it hurts to shower? I called that “Monday”.

Fortunately, I managed to dope myself up on enough goofballs to get through last night’s WILDSound Feedback Film Festival, which was a lot of fun even if I did interrupt a couple of the featured titles by fits of coughing, and this morning my temperature appears to have broken, so I think I’ve turned the corner.

Which means that the DVD package pictured above is real, and not a fever-induced hallucination.

Street date’s August 7th. No word on extras yet, but hopefully they’ll include an audio commentary by Dino de Laurentiis’ psychotherapist …

Under the Weather

I've always been above averageI have a cold.

It’s quite miserable. I mean, I’m not dying or anything, but at this point I’ve really had quite enough of the coughing and the runny nose and that awful snorking sound that comes with the post-nasal drip. I’m now into the crispy-eyeball, aching-joints phase, which means I’ll be getting better sooner rather than later. But still. Eeech.

Anyway. I’ve been pounding down the cold medication and the vitamin C, so hopefully I’ll be coherent enough by tomorrow night, when I’ll be playing host at this month’s WildSound Feedback Film Festival, down at the National Film Board of Canada’s offices at Richmond and John. Apparently someone thought I’d be a good fit.

I’m a better fit than Molly Shannon in “Year of the Dog“, anyway, I’ll tell you that. Not that Shannon isn’t amazingly good as a woman who loses her mind after she loses her dog … just that Mike White’s smug sensibility can’t accommodate a performance of such depth and feeling.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I think my brain is dribbling out of my left nostril …

My other other gig.