Space Wants Filling

I may be less floppy than you'd expect, but I remain rather charmingMy new gig at Sympatico/MSN requires me to write two longish pieces every week — one about whatever’s arriving on DVD, and another about whatever’s arriving in theaters.

In the industry, this kind of article is called a “thumbsucker”, referring to the art of mulling over of something trivial. And I have no illusions about what I do — everything I write about is ultimately trivial. We’re not curing cancer here. We’re not even curing scabies.

Coming up with 104 interesting pieces a year is a little intimidating. But I get a little shot of hope when I stumble across something like Shinan Govani’s piece in today’s Post about Hugh Grant’s hair. Or, more specifically, Hugh Grant’s hair in “Music and Lyrics”.

Now, this is a thumbsucker. It’s not a review of the movie (though Shinan does come up with a pull-quote — “It’s positively pee-in-your-pants!” — that’s as alluring as it is unusable), it’s a review of an actor’s head.

Shinan spends hundreds of words on the evolution of Grant’s coiffure through the past decade, invoking such icons as Cary Grant, John Wayne and Gertrude Stein — sorta — and even takes a languid detour to evaluate the current state of the actor’s chest.

(Grant’s character is a survivor of an ’80s pop duo whose solo career flamed out while his partner’s soared — basically, Andrew Ridgeley –which accounts for his deflopped hairstyle and dissolute physique.)

I’m not bringing this up to make fun of Shinan, by the way. He’s very, very good at what he does, and I know as well as anyone how difficult it is to fill a fixed space every day.

I mean, does anybody remember my “Big Picture” column in GTA Today / Metro Today / Metro, where I had to spotlight a different movie every day? That turned into a real challenge after about six months, and it ran for nearly three years.

But articles like this one give me hope: If Shinan can get 500 words out of Hugh Grant’s hair, then surely I can pull 800 words out of the movie in which the hair is featured.

So: How many words are in this post?

The Return of the King

Home again, home again, giggity gig!As some of you probably know, I launched this blog on the day of my last Starweek column. And I’ve been trying to find a new home for my particular brand of comprehensive home-video coverage ever since.

Turns out nine months is a pretty good gestation time.

As of today, I’ll be writing on DVDs for Sympatico/MSN, discussing the latest new releases, special editions, reissues, high-def titles, whatever comes along. You can find the first column here.

(Don’t bookmark the link just yet; it’s specific to this week’s column. I’m told there’ll be a fixed index page off the “DVD” tab in the Entertainment section; when that goes live, I’ll include it in my link list over to the right.)

And this isn’t just a DVD gig. I’ll be offering commentary on new theatrical releases every Friday, too; this week, in honor of “Hannibal Rising”, I’ll be looking at the interesting new phenomenon of cinematic brand extensions. You know, “Rocky Balboa“, “Van Wilder 2: The One That Doesn’t Even Have Van Wilder In It” … stuff like that.

You’ll be able to find it in the spotlight box on the Sympatico/MSN home page as well, and it’ll eventually turn up in my link list.

Damn, it’s good to be back.

Message Received

What the hell happened to me?… and the message is, if you build an effective ad campaign around a cheesy horror movie, people will go to see it even if it’s absolutely awful.

“The Messengers” took the number one spot at the North American box-office this weekend, despite being so laughably bad at the horror-movie stuff that the guy from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” is the scariest thing in it. Word of mouth didn’t kill it on Friday night; the reviews, which didn’t start to appear until Saturday because Sony didn’t screen the film for the press, barely dented its insidious momentum.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised; the same combination of critical avoidance and aggressive TV spottery dragged “Epic Movie” to the top only last week.

Honestly, though, I thought horror fans were more discerning. Didn’t they just shun “The Hitcher”? And wasn’t that supposed to be a good sign?

People, people. I can’t help you if you don’t let me in.

Red vs. Blue

Dead or alive, you are coming with meEngadget reports that the first Neilsen VideoScan numbers for 2007 are coming in, and Blu-ray software is outselling HD-DVD software two to one.

Yeah, it looks like a rout, but I’d raise a couple of cautionary points.

First, the data isn’t title-specific, leaving us no idea whether a given dual-format release — say, Paramount’s “World Trade Center” or Warner’s “Lady in the Water” — is moving two Blu-ray editions for every HD-DVD sold.

And it follows that, if said date isn’t title-specific, then the sheer number of available Blu-ray titles would naturally lead to disproportionate sales when compared to HD-DVD, since HD-DVD only has Warner and Universal supporting its platform, while every studio but Universal is releasing titles to Blu-ray. There’s simply more Blu-ray available to be bought. (And Fox is releasing “The Marine” next week! Dudes!)

What the numbers do seem to imply is that the release of the moderately priced, Blu-ray capable PlayStation 3 has had precisely the effect that Sony expected it would — people are using it to watch high-definition movies as well as play games. And they’re not just upconverting their standard DVDs with it; they’re buying Blu-ray discs specifically for HD playback.

Christmas = PS3s. PS3s = Blu-ray sales. Blu-ray sales = eventual format domination. I’m not sure how underpants fit into it, but I probably just forgot to carry the three.

Oh, and if you want a peek into the die-hard, frothing mind of the early adopter, read the comments on the Engadget piece. It’s a lot more fun if you read them aloud in the voice of this guy.

Still Around

Stop me before I giggle againFormalized grieving is a strange thing. Thus, I will avoid it entirely and just talk about this week’s movies, specifically:

Because I Said So“: I like Diane Keaton a lot, I really do. But she has to stop making terrible movies in which she plays neurotic harridans who interfere in their daughters’ romantic lives, and in the process discover their own sensuality. I know, I know … as bad as it was, “Something’s Gotta Give” got her an Oscar nomination. This one won’t. On the other hand, former pop tart Mandy Moore turns out to be a surprisingly natural screen presence. But she’ll be just as good in her next picture.

The Italian“: A Russian movie about a cute little orphan boy who goes in search of the mother he’s never known, just as he’s about to be shipped out to a life of cappucinos, Vespas and post-Berlusconi corruption investigations? The combination would usually send me screaming out of the theater, but somehow director Andrei Kravchuk and screenwriter Andrei Romanov make it work, even if the second half isn’t quite as strong as the first. I have the sinking feeling Roberto Benigni is going to try to remake this with himself as the five-year-old orphan, so see the original before his mark is upon it.

“The Messengers”: Screened really, really late — like, 9:30 pm on Thursday — so Metro won’t have my review until Monday, but that’s okay … it’ll probably take me a couple of days to come up with something, anything, to say about the Pang Brothers’ inane venture into American cinema, in which Dylan McDermott, Penelope Ann Miller and Kristin Stewart buy a creepy old farmhouse and get stalked by a sound mix for 98 minutes. Plus, John Corbett gives the performance of his career as a shotgun-toting farmhand, even if he doesn’t know he’s doing it. Or possibly because of that.

Partition“: Vic Sarin’s clumsy attempt to turn the political and religious upheaval of 1947 India into a crowd-pleasing romantic melodrama along the lines of “The English Patient” or “Titanic” forgets one important thing: Neither of those films was shot on a shoestring in Vancouver. Also, both of those movies had directors capable of, you know, directing. Of course, neither of those films tried to sell Kristin Kreuk as a Pakistani Muslim, either.

Sur la Trace d’Igor Rizzi“: I gave Noel Mitrani’s oddball comedy-drama — which stars Laurent Lucas as a washed-up soccer star moping around Montreal who takes a job as a contract killer despite having not the first idea as to how one goes about whacking people — a pat on the head when it played TIFF last fall; if you were intrigued, but couldn’t make it to the screening, it’s at the Royal all week.

Regular posting will resume shortly, I promise.

Suffering

So I says to Edith, I says ...Just checking in quickly before the funeral, but I do want to point to a couple of new reviews, just in case you were feeling masochistic about seeing a movie tonight:

Blood and Chocolate“: An American werewolf — sorry, loup-garou — in Romania finds herself awfully conflicted when she falls in love with a rather lunkheaded human, despite all those warnings about how humans are bad, mmkay? If you thought the “Underworld” films were lame and underdeveloped, imagine how bad they’d be without the vampires and the guns. Oh, and the budget. And what the hell is Agnes Bruckner doing in a crappy project like this?

Epic Movie“: The guys who made “Date Movie” are back, and their success has emboldened them distressingly — this one’s even sloppier and more base than the last one, just throwing a bunch of really obvious references and parodies at the screen until there’s enough footage to constitute a feature. (Barely: It’s maybe 80 minutes long.) But this word, “satire” … I do not think it means what you think it means. And yes, I know it made all the money this weekend, but I don’t care. Some people can’t be saved.

Hey, here’s a thought: If you haven’t seen “The Departed” yet, why not see that tonight? It’s really good.

It’s a Bad, Bad, Bad Weekend

Dude, I was totally high when I signed on for thisThe last Friday in January means two things: First, all the Oscar bait rolls back into theatres — and yes, I know “The Departed” will be on DVD in a couple of weeks, but see it on a big screen if you can — and second, everything else that opens is going to be absolute crap.

To wit:

“Blood and Chocolate”: Agnes Bruckner, of “Blue Car” and “Dreamland”, demonstrates that even her considerable chops cannot make a stupid werewolf movie work if no one is trying to help her. Full review in Monday’s Metro; all you need to know is that it’s terrible, and silly, and terribly silly.

Catch and Release“: In which Jennifer Garner mopes, cries, bangs her dead fiance’s best friend, and learns to live with grief. Also, Susannah Grant demonstrates that she really, really shouldn’t be allowed to direct her own work. Dude, Kevin Smith was right there on the set! You couldn’t ask him for pointers?

Mount Pleasant“: If one tried to imagine a cynical attempt to fuse “Happiness” and “Crash”, one could probably imagine a movie considerably better than this dull cable drama about the miserable lives of three interconnected couples in the titular Vancouver neighborhood. Catch it on TMN, perhaps sooner than the filmmakers would like.

Smokin’ Aces“: In which Joe Carnahan demonstrates that he is not, in fact, the second coming of Guy Ritchie, though he really, really thinks he is. (Curiously, it also has the side benefit of making Tom Cruise look like a genius for waiting him out on “Mission: Impossible III”.) Points to Ben Affleck for never acknowledging the full idiocy of his moustache. Points off to Andy Garcia for somehow becoming Texan during his last big monologue.

No screenings of “Epic Movie” at all, but I’m catching it later this afternoon. I hope it’s funnier than “Date Movie”, is all I’m saying. But then, how could it not be? All it would take is one successful gag …

Simpsons Already Did It

The cause of, and solution to, all of life's problemsA little while ago, I tallied up my TV-watching and realized that, godsdammit, I spend more time on Fox than any other network.

Yeah, NBC has “The Office” and “Heroes“, ABC has “Lost” and Space has “BSG“, but if I’m honest with myself, Fox rules my universe with “Prison Break“, “House“, “The Simpsons“, “American Dad” and “Family Guy“.

(Oh, and technically “Bones“, which I’ve discovered on DVD and rather enjoy, even if I’m constantly noticing how much fire David Boreanaz is not on.)*

The downside to watching Fox, though, is everything else on the network. Even if one avoids “American Idol” like the plague that it is, it makes its presence known during the dramatic programming with little pop-up things at the beginning of each act.

And now, Fox is launching what may be the lamest reality/game show concept yet: “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth-Grader?“, coming real soon.

I have this game I play when stuck watching a dull movie: Would this be better as a “Simpsons” episode? “The Guardian”, with Homer and Bart in the Costner and Kutcher roles, for instance, or perhaps “The Nativity Story” with Lisa and Milhouse? Usually, it’s a no-brainer; not only would the “Simpsons” writers generate better scripts, they’d be over after 22 minutes.

Anyhow, in this case, the pitch for this game show reminds me of Lisa’s science-fair project, “Is My Brother Dumber Than a Hamster?”, from the classic Episode 9F14 (“Duffless”). This obviously marks the beginning of a new generation of self-referential crap at Fox … or possibly the culmination of a long gestational process that started with “Wife Swap”. (Wasn’t there an episode where Marge and Maude Flanders switched places? It seems like there must have been.)

I eagerly await “Differential Diagnosis”, in which a panel of contestants race against the clock (and each other) to figure out which exotic complication the patient really has, or “Lockdown”, a reality show about people trying to break out of the set of “Prison Break” … which, after all, is an actual prison.

Do I need to copyright stuff like this?

* Thanks to the “Previously On …” recaps that immediately follow “Prison Break”, I also kinda-sorta watch “24“. Amazing how much information they can cram into that couple of minutes.

All (Oscar) Politics is Local

Front Page ChallengeThe post-nomination debates are raging in the newspapers, but the National Post’s front page summed it all up nicely:

SNUBBED BY OSCAR: No Best Picture nod for Dreamgirls; Jack Nicholson, Borat and Brad Pitt get shunned.

The lack of a Best Picture nom for “Dreamgirls”, yeah, that’s kind of newsworthy in light of the film’s eight nominations … but, well, is “shunned” really the right word?

I mean, it’s not as if Nicholson doesn’t have three Oscars already; it’s not as if “Borat” wasn’t, you know, actually nominated for something; and it’s not as if Pitt, whose production company produced both “Babel” and “The Departed”, was told he couldn’t attend the ceremony this year.

I know, I know. It’s all about grabbing eyeballs and telling people what they think they want to hear. And, evidently, they want to hear how great it is that big Hollywood stars (and that “Borat” guy you’ve been hearing so much about) have been shown up at the whole being-famous thing, while our very own Deepa Mehta — a national treasure! — has been honored with a nomination for Best Foreign-Language Film for “Water”.

Now, I know we need homegrown stories, but really … I was at the Varsity yesterday morning for a screening, and the Deepa machine was going full-bore, with journalists lining up to chat with her about her year-and-a-half-old movie and how great it is that — how did she put it in the Globe? — oh, right, that was just a picture of her sitting in an auditorium, she wasn’t actually quoted or anything.

Yes, she’s a lovely person and she’s entitled to every bit of exposure she can scrape out … and because we’re very nice up here in Canada, no one will mention that “Water” is kind of disappointing, and probably doesn’t stand a chance against “Pan’s Labyrinth”, “The Lives of Others” or even “After the Wedding”.

Still, what else were we going to put up for the nomination? “Bon Cop, Bad Cop”?

My other other gig.