And the Winners Are …

Oh, Britney, do put on some undergarmentsThe Toronto Film Critics Association’s 2006 awards are announced today, and I noticed something interesting: A near-complete absence of American winners. Really — “Thank You for Smoking” got First Feature, and that was it. Even the Animated Feature winner is an Australian production.

It’s no big deal; we’re just usually a little more susceptible to the Hollywood glitz thing, since we’re inundated with it every September at TIFF. Not this year. The little projects outshone the heavy hitters, right across the board. Interesting.

And how do I feel about the winners, you may ask? Well, I guess I’m okay with most of them … well, except “Happy Feet”, which I think goes insane about 75 minutes in and never recovers; I much preferred “Flushed Away” — which didn’t even make our final ballot this year, probably because DreamWorks/Paramount didn’t make a screener push — and “Over the Hedge”. But otherwise, I’m good.

Six more reviews to write today, and two movies to see, so I’ll catch you tomorrow. Man, the holiday crush is, um, crushing.

Stop It! Stop It!

Fire bad!Okay, it’s not a big surprise that “The Pursuit of Happyness” opened at #1 this weekend — Will Smith is box-office gold, baby, and he’s been pushing this film for months now.

But the #2 spot going to “Eragon”? That awful, awful attempt to cash in on the “Lord of the Rings” phenomenon? That’s just not right.

Look, I know I can’t do anything about the tickets sold this weekend. But if you’re even considering seeing this film, let me put it clearly: “Eragon” is a terrible, terrible movie. It doesn’t respect you. It doesn’t even respect its own material.

It’s the product of a bunch of guys in a room who wanted to make a lot of money, and slapped together the first dragon-related project they could find in the service of their own avarice. As Adam puts it over in Eye, this isn’t a real movie — it’s the knockoff they sell at grocery stores to parents too cheap to buy the branded toy their kids have asked for.

Send a message. No more money for the crappy dragon movie. Let’s stop the sequel before it gets the green light.

Do it for the children.

Holiday Movies, Blah

They just told her they're really Spider-Man and Batman Well, it’s not a total loss; there are still a couple of terrific Christmas releases yet to open. But this week’s debuts are a fairly sallow bunch across the board.

Sorry for the late post, by the way; I kept holding off in the expectation that the Metro site would have today’s reviews the next time I checked. It looks like they’re not being quite as up-to-the-minute as one might expect of a daily publication … they’ll probably go up late Sunday afternoon.

Anyway, here are the skinnies:

“Charlotte’s Web”: The first ten minutes are perfect in every way, and then the cows start farting. If you have children, it’s your duty to protect them from this adaptation. Yes, Julia Roberts is the perfect voice for Charlotte — as far as she’s concerned, she’s starring in an arachnid remake of “Steel Magnolias” — but the movie doesn’t appreciate her. Or anything else, really.

“Cheech”: Quebec actors run around talking tough and waving guns to no particular effect. Saddest bit: In a movie with several failed attempts at humor, the script’s one great opportunity for pitch-black comedy — a suicidally depressed escort who shows up for work anyway, because what the hell — is played straight. It must have been pretty slim pickings at Canada’s Top Ten if they found room for this one.

“Eragon”: “Star Wars” with dragons. Makes Lucas look like Akira Kurosawa. But then, the movie lost me from the first line of spoken dialogue, when John Malkovich groans to Robert Carlyle that — really, he says this out loud — “I’m sad without my stone.” And it’s not even a stone. Dork.

“The Good German”: I often find Steven Soderbergh’s experiments more entertaining than his mainstream work, but this one — which affects the style and production strategies of a 1940s studio B-picture — seemed to slide sideways. Not that George Clooney and Cate Blanchett weren’t born to be photographed in high-contrast black-and-white, or that Soderbergh doesn’t know what he’s doing … but why riff on “Casablanca” and “The Third Man” when you’re only going to come up short?

“Monkey Warfare”: Meh. I know everyone else is high on this, but it did absolutely nothing for me — and I like everyone involved. But Reg Harkema needs to put the Godardian stuff away, or at least incorporate it into his overall aesthetic instead of yanking it out and waving it around every 20 minutes, just to remind us that he’s seen “La Chinoise”.

“The Pursuit of Happyness”: A self-help book becomes a self-help movie, with valuable life lessons galore: Respect Yourself. Homeless Doesn’t Mean Hopeless. Love Your Kid. Will Smith Deserves An Oscar. And maybe he’ll get it on sheer physical exertion alone: The guy runs back and forth across the same three San Francisco streets so often you’ll think you’re watching the long-awaited Frogger movie.

“Snow Cake”: There’s a terrific character study in here, about a quietly broken Englishman who reawakens to life when he’s trapped in northern Ontario for a weekend (and really, who wouldn’t?) … but the inclusion of Sigourney Weaver as the autistic woman to whom Rickman finds himself beholden keeps pulling that film off the rails. Weaver’s not bad, but her character is entirely unnecessary to the story.

Ah, well. Seen “Stranger Than Fiction” yet? That’s still around.

One Good Turn

Nothing to see here, move alongWent to the dentist again. This time, the freezing took, and he was able to assess my broken tooth … and it turns out to be salvageable. No crown, no root canal, and absolutely no talk of “extraction”; just a tiny little blob of something over the pulp and a conventional filling. Covered by insurance and everything.

Also: Computer replaced, after much arguing with Future Shop over exactly what that “lowest price guarantee” means. (It means, apparently, that they’d really rather not knock $250 off the price of an Averatec 2370 laptop computer at Eglinton and Laird, but for some reason they’re cool with it over at Yonge and Eglinton.)

In other words: Everything went right. This was a good day, even if I did spend half of it lurching around the city with a half-frozen jaw.

It’s been a while since I’ve had one of those. They’re nice.

Television, Marvelous Television

Richard E. Grant got nothing on usIt’s a worky kind of day, so I offer up somebody else’s journalism about two of the very best shows on television.

Over at the New Yorker, Tad Friend delivers an amazing dissertation on the brilliance of “The Office”, in both its English and American incarnations.

And over at Reason Magazine, editors Jesse Walker and Nick Gillespie offer up the transcript of a panel discussion with Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of “South Park” — which is, if anything, even more fearless and incisive after a decade on the air.

One of the reasons this is a worky kind of day is that I spent far too much time reading these yesterday.

The Coolest Song in the World

Just listen to the song, it all makes senseI’ve recently discovered that Jonathan Coulton, who is often associated with John Hodgman but does quite a few interesting things on his own, has written the coolest song in the world.

You can find it here. Go on, I’ll wait.

If you’d like to hear more Coulton, his album “Smoking Monkey” is available on Emusic here. I particularly like “Ikea” and “First of May” — the guy knows his pop.

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.

My other other gig.