Eight Out of Nine

This man is the future of mimeIt’s insane, isn’t it? Nine movies opening, and eight of them going wide?

That’s the biggest dump we’ve seen in a while, but I’m right on top of it. The only movie I couldn’t review was “The Hills Have Eyes 2”, which Fox Atomic declined to screen in advance.

But if you want to know what I thought about the other movies …

Air Guitar Nation“: For those about to pretend to rock, I salute you. Although there’s some question as to whether they’re only pretending to rock … after all, as Vonnegut’s “Mother Night” taught us, if one pretends to be something long enough, and well enough, does one not actually become that something? Anyway, never mind, Alexandra Lipsitz’ scruffy documentary is totally awesome, and the best thing I’ve seen in weeks.

Amazing Grace“: In which Mr. Fantastic convinces England to abolish the slave trade. (Well, he is supposed to be fantastic.) Yes, Michael Apted’s biopic about William Wilberforce is, at its heart, just another movie that looks at the plight of black people through the eyes of their outraged white saviors … but Steven Knight’s script is a little sharper than you might expect, and the cast — which includes Ioan Gruffudd, Michael Gambon, Albert Finney, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds and Romola Garai — is in top form.

The Last Mimzy“: Bob Shaye, moonlighting from his regular gig as the head of New Line, goes all Spielberg with this family adventure, heavily influenced by “E.T.”, about a brother and sister who discover a box of weird toys and wind up holding the future of all humankind in their hands. It throws out a lot of ideas that are never followed up — both kids getting smarter, the sister being some sort of Buddhist ideal, and so forth — and the whole thing smells like Otto’s jacket, but at least Rainn Wilson gets to play a normal person for a change.

Pride“: Terrence Howard straps himself into the Inspirational True-Life Sports Movie machine to play Jim Ellis, who founded an African-American swim team at a crumbling Philadelphia recreational center in 1974 and became a force for change in his community. It’s a good, wholesome story … and this movie is dedicated to telling that story in the most banal and conventional way imaginable. Way to go.

Reign Over Me“: Mike Binder is America’s answer to Roberto Benigni, once again gloms onto an unpleasant topic in order to give his hacky script the sheen of respectability. With “The Upside of Anger”, it was spousal abandonment and bereavement; here, it’s 9/11, as experienced — apparently exclusively — through Adam Sandler’s ruined widower. Nothing against Sandler, or his co-star Don Cheadle, both of whom give Binder their all. It’s just that they’re trapped in a terrible, terrible movie.

Sharkwater“: I know Rob Stewart; he was my cameraman on a number of interviews I shot for Tribute TV a few years back. He’s a nice guy, smart and resourceful, and he really should have stuck to his original plan of building a meditative underwater documentary. The more time he spends on the adventures he had making his movie, the less time he spends on his intended subject. The underwater footage is gorgeous; there’s just not nearly enough of it.

Shooter“: Mark Wahlberg glowers his way through all two hours and eight minutes of this slick but pointless action-thriller about a sniper framed for murder. It’s “The Fugitive” meets “The Bourne Ultimatum”, directed by an attention-deficient sadist! Seriously, somebody’s got to sit Antoine Fuqua down and explain why shooting people in the head is only an effective motif if their deaths have meaning, especially in a military context, and … nah, you know, he delights in women being brutalized and puts a dog through a glass window. F*ck him.

“TMNT”: Yep, that’s the on-screen title. (Rhymes with “mint”.) If you were wondering when someone would get around to using CGI to place the Turtles in their ideal context — running around New York, skateboarding through sewers and fighting giant monsters, with Master Splinter sitting at home trying to find “Gilmore Girls” on the Tivo — well, wonder no more. Good, dumb fun, and extra points for getting Larry Fishburne to narrate the prologue in full Morpheus mode. (No Metro link yet, apparently.)

Catching “The Hills Have Eyes 2” this afternoon. Apparently this one’s about soldiers who run afoul of everyone’s favorite torture mutants. I shall bring candy.

Sorry, Red Pills Only

Dude, this cover is so awesome in 1080pBreaking news, sort of: “The Matrix” is finally coming to high-def DVD … and through a scheduling quirk, it’s format-exclusive.

As reported on The Digital Bits and Engadget HD, Warner Home Video has announced that it’ll be releasing the “Matrix” trilogy to HD-DVD on May 22nd, with a Blu-ray release to follow later in the year.

Will this provide the edge HD-DVD has been looking for? The “Matrix” films would be a stunning high-def experience … although it seems that Warner releasing them exclusively as a boxed set would work against them in any format, as I’m one of the few people who’d happily sit through the sequels again.

Paramount surely ran afoul of the same problem with their “Misson: Impossible” trilogy box last fall — seriously, who needs “MI2”? — which is why the first two films in that series are being released separately … on May 22nd.

Whoa.

Countermeasures

I swear, I will turn this van around right nowYep, there it is: Engadget reports Toshiba will be lowering the list price of its HD-DVD players as of April 1st, with the base model, the HD-A2, now sporting a suggested $399 sticker price.

This news arrives just a couple of weeks after Sony’s announcement of its $600 Blu-ray player, and exactly one week after Sony’s exclusive Blu-ray edition of “Casino Royale” became the first high-definition title to make it onto Amazon.com’s top 25 DVD sales list. (It was selling at #17, right behind the standard DVD edition at #16.)

The comments sections of various blogs are arguing over whether the price drop is a sign of desperation, with Toshiba making a last-ditch attempt to grab the cheapest end of the market, or a calculated strategy to paint Blu-ray players as needlessly expensive and exorbitant by comparison. (Even the 20GB version of Sony’s PlayStation 3 is still going for $500.)

But will it make any difference? With only a handful of A-titles being released on HD-DVD in the coming weeks — and Universal’s “Children of Men” and “The Good Shepherd” being the only ones you won’t be able to buy on Blu-ray as well — it’s looking more and more like the format war might be in its final throes.

Of course, we all know how much “final throes” predictions are worth these days. And as long as “Children of Men” is only available on HD-DVD, I’m gonna need something to on which play it …

Yo, Rock

Insert diaper joke hereMy latest DVD column is up at Sympatico/MSN, featuring a certain Italian boxer fellow. I’ve written at length about the nostalgic and dramatic merits of “Rocky Balboa”, but if you missed it in its theatrical run — and judging from the box-office tallies, a lot of you did — it’s certainly worth a look on disc.

(Sadly, the alternate ending included in the special features is not the one I’d hoped for, with Mason “The Line” Dixon punching Rocky’s brains out through his ear for a spectacular gladiator’s-death finale.)

Consumer warning: If you’re considering the Blu-ray edition, step back for a second and think about whether you really need to see Stallone’s bulging old-man neck veins in high-definition. Me, not so much.

M. Rohmer Called, and He Wants His Ennui Back

That's right, baby, I'm dead inside and I love itMy latest Sympatico/MSN column is up, in which I use Chris Rock’s “I Think I Love My Wife” as a jumping-off point to ponder the tragic quest of comic actors for respectability through adaptations of established material.

(Not mentioned: My research has concluded it’s only a matter of time before Vincent Gallo tackles “The 400 Blows”.)

Also, and on a completely unrelated note: Berkeley Breathed revisits one of his smartest jokes about twenty years later, and discovers it’s still just as relevant in today’s America. Is that funny, or terribly sad?

Also also, I saw “Dead Silence”. So, um … is the creepy doll some Australian icon of which I’ve been previously unaware, or are James Wan and Leigh Whannell just colossal fraidy-cats?

I, Contrarian

How'd Billy Connolly get roped into this dog?Wow, look at this week’s movies. We’ve got three major releases from studios that clearly don’t believe in their product (hell, Universal didn’t even bother to screen “Dead Silence”), another wide opener that’s getting massive coverage … well, because it’s Canadian, apparently … and two holdovers from the last two TIFFs. The Loach is the best of the lot, I guess, since even Loach’s disappointing films play better than most directors’ successes.

Can you tell I’m not enthused? It hasn’t been an enthusing week. Fortunately, friends have let us borrow their seven-month-old puppy while they’re on vacation, so I have a furry distraction whenever I need one. Which, in a weird way, brings us to …

Fido“: You know, I just don’t see the big deal. It’s the last two minutes of “Shaun of the Dead”, stretched out to fifty times that length and set in the 1950s. Yes, the “corporate short” that opens the picture is terrific, the art direction is awesome and Billy Connolly is wonderful. But man, is this movie dull.

I Think I Love My Wife“: In which Chris Rock remakes Eric Rohmer’s “Chloe in the Afternoon” and comes up with a misogynist tract about a desirable man driven to contemplate adultery because his wife has cut him off, on account of she’s all tired and stuff after taking care of their kids. Not that this couldn’t still work as a comedy, but it so doesn’t; it’s just a catchall for Rock’s distressingly outsized rants. As we saw in “Head of State”, the man is his own worst director.

Premonition“: As a woman quantum-leaping back and forth through the days of the week in which her husband dies in a car accident (doesn’t he?), Sandra Bullock does a credible impression of someone who has absolutely no idea what’s going on around her. Trouble is, so do the filmmakers. It does have one of the worst endings I’ve seen in a couple of years, if that floats your boat.

The White Masai“: A liberated white woman decides to abandon her comfortable bourgeois life when she finds the thunderbolt for a Masai warrior, only to get slammed up against the patriarchal tribalism when she tries to define herself as an individual; hey, it’s “Not Without My Daughter: Kenya Edition”! And this was a Gala in 2005, huh? Wow.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley“: Ken Loach, in his scrappy and actor-indulgent manner, examines the formation of the Irish Republican Army. Cillian Murphy is incandescent, to the point of blotting out everyone else in the picture … but that’s okay, because Loach’s insistence on drawing direct parallels to the current situation in Iraq winds up extinguishing the fire from his story.

So: I got nothing. How about you guys? Seen anything that turned your head around recently?

Ich Bien Entaggened

Kitten is actual sizeCourtesy Callaghan, I am now required to post the following Five Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Me:

1. I have written a movie about a giant, rampaging robot catfish.

Also a movie about killer mutant poodles, and a movie about civilized vampires, and a movie about a hostage-taking, and a movie about Elvis impersonators. (See #2.) The catfish movie, titled “Bottom Feeder”, was written in response to “Lake Placid” and “Deep Blue Sea”, and evolved out of a lunchtime conversation between my friend and co-writer over what sort of water-borne monster would be more ridiculous than a giant crocodile and a super-intelligent shark, put together. And once the words “Giant”, “Robot” and “Catfish” came together, well, we just had to type the sucker up.

2. I have been dissed in print by Michael Madsen.

A while back, I wrote a screenplay with the Toronto Star’s Rob Salem called “Hellvis”, about a serial killer targeting Elvis impersonators in Memphis, and we thought Madsen would be perfect for the role of the investigating cop who may or may not be the King’s s bastard son. (This was in the fall of 1992, when it seemed unlikely that Bruce Campbell would ever be big enough to headline the project.) So Rob passed it along to his people, and Madsen clearly read it … though I’m not sure how much attention he paid to the specifics, since when he brought it up dismissively in an interview with Movieline magazine, he got the plot wrong and said it was, well, “shit”. I fired off a snippy letter to the editor, which I kinda regret now — it makes me look like a whiny kid, although in my defense I more or less was, at the time — but hey, you gots to defend your art.

3. I have had my hand in a baby giraffe’s mouth.

In 1998, a friend — the same friend with whom I’d later write “Bottom Feeder”, as it happens — asked me to interview the chief veterinarian at the Metro Toronto Zoo for a video project he was trying to launch; because you always need cutaways and B-roll, she let me wander around the inner fences at a number of the animal habitats, and introduced me to a very friendly baby giraffe. I instinctively did that thing all dog owners do, which is to extend the hand so the animal can sniff it, and the giraffe, who was about six months old, slopped her tongue around my wrist and yanked the hand into her mouth. Giraffes don’t have teeth, so I was never in danger of any harm, but … aww, and yuck, at the same time. Incidentally, the reflexive hand thing is not a good idea if you’re ever in the presence of a Siberian tiger, even if it’s only six months old.

4. I have “Star Trek” fandom embedded deep in my reptile brain.

I pretty much gave up on the franchise after the first season of “Deep Space Nine” — yeah, I get it, it’s diplomacy in space, somebody frackin’ blow something up! — but in the fall of 1994, I went to New York for the “Star Trek: Generations” junket, and discovered that no matter how old you are, or how sophisticated you may believe yourself to be (this being a little more than a year after the Madsen/Movieline thing), when you open a door and William Shatner is on the other side, you will geek the f*ck out.

Even more embarrassing: After the formal interview session had ended, Patrick Stewart, a lovely man, walked down a hallway with me, telling me a story about his stage reading of “A Christmas Carol”. It was a long story, so we ended up standing outside the door to his next appointment as he wrapped it up, and I realized after about two minutes that I was standing kind of strangely … bolt upright, my arms crossed behind me, legs slightly apart … as god is my witness, I was standing at ease for Captain Picard. I’m sure he noticed, and was gentleman enough not to point it out. I wonder how often it happens.

5. I had a cancer scare five years ago.

Barely a scare, really — more like a brief moment of being startled — but I learned two things from the experience. First, when the colorectal guys say, “ah, you probably won’t need a sedative for this,” demand it anyway. And second, if your entire world can turn on a dime, there’s no point in being delicate about things that truly matter, which is why I asked Kate to marry me shortly after receiving my clean bill of health. (It took a few months before she said yes, but that’s just gravy as far as the story goes.)

Apparently, I’m now obliged to tag five more people. So …

Alice in Newyorkland

How it Plays Out

Uninstalled

… and, because it’d be awesome if they actually do it:

Jonathan Coulton

John Hodgman

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s this piece I should have filed an hour ago …

One Man’s Treasure …

This will not look good on a resumeOver at The Onion AV Club, Nathan Rabin is putting himself through sheer holy hell on a weekly basis, watching unloved and unworthy movies for our entertainment and edification.

At least, that’s how he’s framing it. The series is called “My Year of Flops“, and it’s now in its 14th instalment, a meditation on William Friedkin’s “Deal of the Century”.

Previous titles have included Barry Levinson’s “Man of the Year“, Tom Laughlin’s “Billy Jack Goes to Washington” … and just in case you thought the focus was exclusively political, he’s also done Adam Bernstein’s “It’s Pat: The Movie“, so there.

Every one of them is a fascinating read, both for Rabin’s insightful commentary — he reads “Deal of the Century” as a perfect storm of career mediocrity for Friedkin and star Chevy Chase, for example — and for the alternately informed and insane comments that invariably follow afterward.

The “It’s Pat” page quickly develops from a discussion of other crappy “Saturday Night Live” spinoffs into a conversation about cult comedies that actually had merit, like “Stuart Saves His Family” and “Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy”, and then somehow turns into an argument over whether Norm Macdonald is a genius or a fool. (I vote “genius”, even if he did somehow get sucked into voicing a talking beaver for my corporate masters.)

The Friedkin career forensics on the “Deal of the Century” page are also worth a look.

Not that I’m suggesting any of these films bear a revisit, though. Especially not “Man of the Year“. Sweet merciful Christ, that was awful.

Future Proof

Get me, I'm shinySo I’m going over the specs on this Apple TV device — the wireless streaming multimedia device intended to bring iTunes to your television, and let you watch all those legally downloaded TV shows and movies in high-def — and while it certainly does look pretty, all small and compact and shiny … well, there are a couple of things that just don’t sit right.

First: No composite or S-video output, and apparently no support for 4:3 monitors. No big deal, I guess, since standard television isn’t really in Apple’s sights here … but hey, even the iPod works with Windows.

Second: The HD output appears to be capped at 720p, rather than the current standard of 1080i or the newer 1080p. To which one says, with a kind of squeak in one’s voice: WHAT?!?

Look, no offense to the Apple fans out there, but this is really just dumb. Either they’re trying to ensire ensure their product will look like crap in a few years, once everything is broadcast in 1080i, in order to get everyone to upgrade to a 1080i model, or they just weren’t thinking. What’s the point of excluding the SD market if you’re not going to provide the best HD experience possible?

And don’t tell me you can’t get 1080i out of a box this size … you absolutely can, and I know because I just bought one over the weekend. And mine has a 60GB drive, makes even Divx files look terrific when pumped through my HD projector, and cost a hair over $200.

Also, the remote looks like a remote, not an iPod Shuffle. If I jam headphones into it, it’s gonna be on purpose.

My other other gig.