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


… 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.

Is This It?

The blue really pops in 1080p, you seeThe arrival of “Casino Royale” on Blu-ray disc today has the potential to finish the high-definition format war once and for all.

This is the first huge hit with a massive, cross- generational following to be released on either platform; not that people in their fifties and sixties necessarily have any interest in buying a high-def DVD player, but if it’s James Bond playing, they’ll stop and watch in the Sony store, whereas the “X-Men: The Last Stand” disc just gets some weird stares and a muttered comment about Ian McKellen wearing a bucket on his head.

More to the point, “Casino Royale” is a knockout. Gorgeous transfer, pumpin’ sound, terrific movie. Expect to see a lot of people walking out of Costco this weekend with PlayStation 3s under their arms. (The basic model is going for just $549 — a bargain, really.)

Oh, and speaking of DVD: My latest Sympatico/MSN column is up, but the index page hasn’t been updated — so for the moment, if you want to read it, you have to go here. Sorry for the inconvenience.

This Is Madness!

Do I look like I want to super-size my combo?Hang on, I’m sorry — “300” made how much over the weekend?

Sweet merciful crap.

I mean, sure, in a universe where “Ghost Rider” can enjoy a $50 million four-day opening weekend, a bigger bow for a comic-book movie with a less snicker-inducing trailer probably shouldn’t surprise … but, really? Seventy million dollars? That’s a lot of tickets.

I wonder how many people left the theater discussing its various subtexts. “300” is turning out to be this year’s “Passion of the Christ” in its textual flexibility, with people divining hidden messages in its story and imagery from every corner of the ideological map.

The New York Times weighed in on the question of whether “300” can work as a present-day political allegory — and if so, whether it’s pro-Bush or anti-Bush. And Andrew Sullivan considers a different military message: How gay is it?

I can’t honestly say. But it’s definitely on poppers.

Still, y’know, to each his own. Personally, I preferred “Sin City” — and ironically, of the recent Miller adaptations, it’s easily the most Spartan. And Mickey Rourke certainly qualifies as a gladiator.

(Yes, I know, the Spartans of “300” aren’t gladiators. But the Spartans of “300” aren’t exactly Spartans, either. It’s a whole aesthetic thing. Move along.)

The Rest of Everything

No, I'm cool, why do you ask?Metro still hasn’t put my “300” review online, which is just plain weird at this point, but you can always check yesterday’s post for a summary. Moving on, here are three of the week’s other openings.

The Aura“: The late Fabian Bielinsky’s tale of an epileptic taxidermist having what’s either the worst week of his life, or the best, is the kind of story that could be played as a black comedy, a neo-noir thriller or a surreal nightmare similar to “13 Tzameti”. Instead, it’s a unique and compelling drama. See it on the big screen.

The Namesake“: Mira Nair’s adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri’s sprawling generational novel about an Indian family in America tries to externalize a very specific internal journey, and ends up feeling static and impenetrable. And while Kal Penn is quite terrific as a young man struggling with his dual heritage, maybe it wasn’t the smartest thing to introduce him as a potheaded teenager.

Starter for 10“: In which the British film industry takes a break from remaking its own commercial successes and tries remaking America’s … twenty years too late. No offense to James McAvoy, who’s a very talented actor, but if I wanted to watch “Some Kind of Wonderful”, I’d watch “Some Kind of Wonderful”.

And in other news, the killer robots are already among us. Good news is, they still require remote hu-man pilots The bad news? They’ve given robots guns.

Discuss among yourselves. I have to go build a shelter.

Prepare for Gory

My ferocity is also digitally enhancedWarner is holding midnight screenings of “300” tonight, so Metro’s running my review today, the better to inform hesitant moviegoers. No link available at blogging time, but I’ll provide it as soon as it’s available.

I don’t think the movie really works — which is a shame, because after his brilliant “Dawn of the Dead” remake it looked like Zack Snyder would be the perfect guy to tackle this material.

Still, I can’t deny that it’s a visual banquet; Snyder has covered every pixel of his digital frame with splendid detail, obsessively quoting Miller’s panels, and for a while it’s almost enough to bliss out on the spectacular imagery.

But then you start to notice some issues with the pacing, and some problems with the script, and then the whole thing grinds down into a grim, humorless orgy of shouting and chest-beating and blood-letting, and you start to wonder if you’re hallucinating: Was that one of the Muppet Musicians of Bremen in Xerxes’ tent? Did someone just appear with lobster claws for arms? Did someone spike my popcorn? Am I tripping balls, or is the movie?

(It’s the movie.)

That said, I’d still recommend catching the midnight screening to anyone who’s vaguely curious about how a hyper-stylized, homoerotic fascist nightmare will play to the comic-book geek crowd most desperate to see it. You won’t find an audience that’s more stoked — these guys stayed up late and came out in the cold to be among the first to experience Frank Miller’s vision in all its demented glory.

And it’s available in IMAX. Their heads will frackin’ explode.

It Came from the Festival

Really, do you need anything further?Two years ago, the Toronto film festival’s Midnight Madness program hosted an oddly effective Irish horror effort called “Isolation“, about a mutant cow running amok on a remote farm.

And I thought: Sure, that could happen.

I wasn’t alone. Last year’s festival featured a different breed of mutant movie: “Black Sheep“, the product of a bunch of Kiwis drunk on some combination of Aardman-inspired hallucinations and Peter Jackson’s earlier, funny films.

Well, brace yourselves: It’s secured a theatrical release. And the trailer’s really quite inspired, making it look like a combination of “The Killer Shrews” and the “Dawn of the Dead” remake.

Which, come to think of it, it kind of is.

Time: The Serial Killer

I have been to the future, but I forgot to bring my PVRSo, just after delivering a pair of mythology-expanding episodes and ending on a crucial plot point (oh, so that’s how Peter gets his scar), NBC’s increasingly incredible “Heroes” is taking another break. There won’t be another new episode until April 23rd.

I ask you, is this justice?

More to the point: Is this any way to tell a serialized story? Six-week gaps between cliffhangers seems … unfair, somehow.

Sure, we’re used to longer breaks with movies — six months between the “Back to the Future” and “Matrix” sequels didn’t seem so bad, and nobody’s too torn up about waiting almost a full year for the third installment of “Pirates of the Caribbean” — but this is television, man! We’ve been taught to want our gratification instantly!

This is an apparently insoluble problem for TV network programmers, who’ve been struggling with the nature of episodic television for a while now. Do you alternate new episodes with repeats, as has been the tradition for decades, or do you run the shows straight through over 22 weeks, and then let your property sit unexploited for the other half of the year?

Fox seems happy with the latter solution for “24”: The season starts in January and runs straight through to May, after which the show just disappears. And in December, those episodes pop up on DVD to stoke interest in the upcoming season.

The producers of “Lost” tried something similar this season, running six new episodes in the fall and then vanishing into some unseen hatch until February. But the show’s deliberate pacing worked against that strategy; by the time the second wave of episodes began, a number of viewers — my wife, for example — had given up on the show ever explaining its key mysteries. (I can still get her to watch the new episodes, but I know she’s just indulging me.)

I’m beginning to understand the appeal of watching entire seasons of a given show on DVD. Of course, that assumes said show will survive long enough to merit a DVD release; the network graveyards are littered with promising series that were smothered in their infancy, and never finished their first order of episodes. Are “Day Break” and “The Nine” ever likely to appear in limited-run sets? I doubt it.

On the other hand, there’s something to be said for being part of the conversation while a show’s secrets are unfolding. I’m still enjoying “Lost” — and isn’t it intriguing that a show that appears to be about the battle between faith and reason demands the viewer’s faith in it all coming together somewhere down the line? — and I continue to look forward to each ridiculous new development in “Prison Break”, although I’m starting to worry that the material won’t survive the stretch to a third season.

And if you’d prefer more self-contained narratives, there’s always “House” — returning tonight after its own three-week hiatus.

My other other gig.