Ring-a-Ding-Ding

Standing on the linoleum of giantsThe best thing about my job is that I never know quite where it will take me.

For instance: In December of 2004, I spent half an hour with a six-month-old Siberian tiger because Universal was promoting the DVD release of “Two Brothers“. The movie was charming but ultimately forgettable; petting a tiger cub will stay with me until my brain turns to paste.

And in September of 2002, I sat down with Joe Hunter, Jack Ashford and Bob Babbit at the Toronto film festival, for “Standing in the Shadows of Motown“. Lovely men full of great stories, and more than willing to indulge me by telling them all over again; it only hit me as I was shaking theirs hand afterward that these were the fingers that actually made the music I love so dearly. Awe is a marvelous thing.

(So is memory: It wasn’t until the next day that I realized the film’s director, Paul Justman was the same Paul Justman who’d edited the legendary Rolling Stones documentary “Cocksucker Blues”, and that he surely have had some very interesting stories of his own to tell if I’d asked.)

Anyway, the reason I bring this up now? I took the above photo in Frank Sinatra’s bathroom about four hours ago.

Continue reading Ring-a-Ding-Ding

Equilibrium is Achieved

Props from My luggage turned up, unmolested, at about two AM. And the coffee machine in my room is working. No complaints.

Japan is calling, and I stand ready to face the day. With fresh contacts, a change of underwear and everything else that makes a man feel like a god.

… sorry. The air out here has a way of making one giddy. Or maybe it’s just the relief of not having to spend half one’s morning at the Gap outlet.

Anyway. Yes, today, the Japanese entry and then the Macedonian film, and then there are a couple of events we’re expected to attend, including one for the premiere of “Black Book“.

Social note: I’m not really a big party-circuit guy, but when presented with the chance to watch Paul Verhoeven drink, well … I am so there. Maybe he’s finally ready to own up to “Hollow Man”.

Morning in America

Be careful, my pretty, for I am a muuuuuuuuuurderer… literally. It’s 1 AM PST, I’ve been up for 22 hours, and my luggage still hasn’t arrived. United’s phone people say it should have got here by 9:30 PM, and can’t understand why it didn’t.

Funny. I can’t understand why I’m about to go to sleep with my contacts in.

Anyway, there’s one good thing to report: Metro’s gone back to updating its website early and often, so you can read those reviews I filed from a cell phone in Vegas. With or without your contacts in.

Happily N’Ever After“: The title’s terrible. The movie’s worse. This actually makes “Hoodwinked” look … well, like a Disney movie. Freddie Prinze, Jr. is oddly appealing as the hero, but that’s probably because we can’t see him. Sarah Michelle Gellar, not so much.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer“: Expensive, elaborate, excruciating. Tom Tykwer takes Patrick Suskind’s novel about a man-monster who kills women in a misguided attempt to distill their scent, and turns it into a movie too timid to really dig into all its carefully appointed muck. Paul Verhoeven, now, he would have wrestled this thing into a masterpiece.

Trivia point: This week’s new releases feature the stars of “Snow Cake“: Sigourney Weaver plays a wicked stepmother in “Happily N’Ever After”, and Alan Rickman turns up in the second half of “Perfume”, daring to give a real performance. Do you think, halfway through the “Snow Cake” shoot, they just held each other and cried?

Adventure Travel

Hey ... that's not a snake, is it?I’m in Palm Springs, and I’m not complaining about anything. It took just some time arriving, is all I’m saying.

Toronto to Denver? Not a hitch. Well, a little bit of one — something about the flaps on the plane being slightly cranky, which meant the plane would be coming in for its landing “a little faster than usual”, which meant we’d be “escorted in” by “a few emergency vehicles”. Oh, and the elderly man who’d been wandering up and down the aisle a little earlier in the flight was acting a bit funny; were there any medical personnel on board, perhaps?

Still: The plane landed just fine and the elderly man wobbled off under his own power. It was a little unnerving to find I couldn’t connect to Denver’s WiFi service, which meant I’d be filing my reviews of “Happily N’Ever After” and “Perfume” a little close to the wire when we landed in California, but I called my editor and let her know, and she said we were cool.

Except we didn’t go to California.

Oh, we headed in that direction, initially, but about 75 minutes into the two-hour flight, the flight attendants started walking up and down the aisle nervously in that way they have when Something Very Disturbing is underway, and a couple of minutes after that, they, too, asked whether there might be a doctor in the house.

There were, in fact, two doctors — a pediatrician, sitting directly in front of me, and someone else further back in the plane to whom my guy ultimately deferred. It seems an elderly woman was showing the symptoms of a stroke, and after a few minutes’ time the captain picked up the PA and told us we’d be making an emergency stop in Las Vegas so that she could receive immediate medical attention.

I’ve never been to Las Vegas before. I guess I still haven’t; they wouldn’t let me off the plane, even to stand in the gangway and try to get a WiFi signal to file my reviews. I wanted to argue about it, but it’s really hard to make someone respect your puny little deadline after he’s just helped wheel a woman off to the trauma room.

Anyway. Problem solved, because I’m a genius: My new Averatec has a smart-card reader, so I popped the SD wafer out of my Treo, popped it in the Averatec, saved the Word file to the card, put the card back in the Treo, and e-mailed it from the Treo using the direct 1x connection. Took about six seconds — and probably cost a hundred bucks, what with various roaming fees — and that was that. Deadline met, obligation fulfilled.

Of course, if I really was a genius, I’d have established a Bluetooth link between my laptop and my phone and been able to send the file without having to bother with the whole SD card back-and-forth.

And, y’know, I’d have done it in Denver.

Also, when we finally reached California, my bags were missing. Don’t worry, they’ve since been found, and will be arriving here shortly.

No complaints.

Although, now that I think about it, if I’d impulsively gotten off the plane in Vegas, farted around for a couple of hours and then rented a car to drive to Palm Springs — an idea which flashed fully formed through my mind in the ten seconds between “you can’t get off unless you decide to terminate your journey here” and “okay, I’ll think of something else” — the bags would probably have reached the hotel around the same time as me.

In any event, the mountains are beautiful and liquid hand soap is distressingly cheap at the Rite-Aid. And there’s a party in an hour that I can attend in my flying ensemble of jeans, a black T-shirt and Blundstones.

Apparently I look like a Belgian documentarian.

Jury Duty

Artist's conceptionFlying out to the Palm Springs International Film Festival tomorrow, to join my FIPRESCI colleagues in a twelve-day parade of subtitles.

Seriously: Our jury is tasked with screening all the national submissions for the Best Foreign-Language Oscar. You can find a rough list here, though there have been some changes; only fifty-five of the titles on that page are still eligible for our award.

And yes, fifty-five films in twelve days might be a daunting task, but the festival thoughtfully sent us a package of screeners back in December, so I’m arriving prepared. If I’ve got the math right, I’ll have to see less than twenty films at the festival, which leaves me a little time to catch a few non-competing titles.

I’m particularly eager to see David Lynch’s “Inland Empire”, even if it does run three hours, and Michael Verhoeven — who guaranteed himself a place in cinema heaven with “The Nasty Girl” back in 1991, but hasn’t been seen much since — is coming with his new documentary, “Unknown Soldier”. Those are the top two on my personal wanna-see list, though of course I remain open to recommendations.

I’ll do my best to post frequent updates — with photos, even! — so check back whenever you can.

Oh, and Metro’s finally put all my holiday movie reviews on its main review page, here. So that’s nice.

You Can’t Burn a Bridge if They’ve Already Taken it Up

Rinse the blood off my aluminum… or, the year in DVDs.

Now, obviously this list is going to be somewhat incomplete, as I wasn’t on the hardcore DVD beat for the full calendar year. And come to think of it, I suppose I should address the whole Starweek thing — it’s certainly the biggest DVD story of the year, as far as I’m concerned.

First things first: I did not leave. I was dumped.

Second things second: I was dumped because some idiot at the Toronto Star believes the paper should do everything the Globe and Mail does, and when the Globe shrank its Broadcast Week magazine in the spring, reducing the page count — and cutting costs! — the Star quickly followed suit.

That meant cutting the book in half, though not reducing the size of the damnable thing, with which readers have been justly annoyed for five years now. Instead, the page count was reduced, just like Broadcast Week’s, and all the columns were being halved so that nothing substantial would change.

Since the column would now be so much shorter, it’d just make so much more financial sense to “bring it inside” — to let a staffer write it, instead of paying me as a freelancer — and that would be that. Thanks for your service, you’ve got two columns left, you’re done at the end of May.

I wanted to be pragmatic about it. The Star’s made stupid decisions before, and reversed them; after all, hadn’t Starweek dropped my column in 2001, when it jumped to the bigger format, only to resurrect it after five weeks? (Of course, things were different then; the paper was flooded with e-mails and faxes, and I had an editor who fought like the devil to keep me.)

And after the first few weeks of the “inside” column, I was sure they’d come back to me; it was just sad, it was. But, no. I forgot the most important thing about newspaper work: What’s on the page doesn’t matter, so long as the page is filled. And the back page of Starweek is indeed filled … though it seems inevitable that the paper will scrap the whole book, now that the Globe has folded the Broadcast Week listings into its Friday entertainment section.

Anyhow. Seven months after my unceremonious dismissal — which, if you’re looking for irony, was delivered by phone while I was bedridden with food poisoning, leading me to wonder whether I’d hallucinated the whole thing — I’m still without a reg’lar DVD gig. Which does pain me somewhat, because I do think I’m rather good at it.

I hope this doesn’t sound like whining. I still have my Metro gig, and I’m still writing reviews for UR and Canadian Smart Living, and it’s not like being dumped by the Star was the worst thing that happened this year. But I built a reputation and a readership over my fifteen years in those Starweek’s pages, and it does frustrate me to no longer have that outlet.

So. Anybody hiring?

Best DVDs of 2006, after the jump … because you deserve ’em.
Continue reading You Can’t Burn a Bridge if They’ve Already Taken it Up

Whoops

Dear, has that monkey followed you home?Two more movies opened yesterday, and I plumb forgot to mention them. This is probably because they are both eminently forgettable.

“Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus”: Imaginary is the key word here, as in: Steven Shainberg and Erin Cressida Wilson imagined that their silly little “Beauty and the Beast” riff would gain resonance and weight if they claimed it “happened” to an actual artist. Also, Nicole Kidman has got to stop giving that Very Intense Person performance. Sure, Robert Downey Jr. is appropriately seductive as the Chewbacca-looking circus freak who plays James Spader to her Maggie Gyllenhaal, but it’s a performance he could give in his sleep. Or perhaps I dreamed the whole thing.

“The Painted Veil”: Speaking of actors who have to stop being Very Intense, here is the curious case of Edward Norton, a brilliant, intuitive screen presence who has evidently decided to expend great energy getting dream projects made, and then to be the least interesting thing in them. Like “The Illusionist” and “Down in the Valley”, “The Painted Veil” is an excuse for Norton to wear nifty period outfits and be all intense, without actually doing anything interesting. Meanwhile, director John Curran demonstrates he’s studied the Merchant Ivory catalogue very carefully, and learned all the wrong lessons: Naomi Watts and Toby Jones do try to color outside the lines somewhat, but the movie has no real interest in their performances; all that subtlety gets in the way of the scenery, don’t you know.

Tomorrow, we talk about DVDs. Alert your Member of Parliament!

(Still having trouble with WordPress’ Java console. Anyone know what I’m doing wrong?)

Cool New Blog! Cool New Blog!

He's done my job for me

… well, not new, apparently, but certainly new to me. And certainly cool.

I stumbled upon Apropos of Something earlier this afternoon* while searching for a robot image to accompany my previous post; instead, I found this cornucopia of wonderfulness, which includes:

a series of hysterically recaptioned comic-book pages (check this one out; it’s absolutely marvelous in a child-of-the-seventies kind of way)

– a fun iPod music challenge (at which I did better than I expected)

a look at the Rocky movies that more or less functions as the evil twin of my own piece last week

… and plenty of other good stuff, including an essential Jones’ Holiday Soda taste test. Although I could have told him that Dinner Roll Soda was a guaranteed downward spiral, frankly.

This is the glory of the Google — you may not land precisely where you want to go, but you usually end up where you need to be.

(Yes, I know that’s a steal from Douglas Adams. Trust me, he’d be cool with it.)

* … yup, WordPress’ Java console is working properly again. For now.

Is Nothing Happening?

Seriously, I forget how dead the week between Christmas and New Year’s can be. I’m just sitting around thinking about my best DVDs of 2006 and lining up the next Palm Springs discs, and there is absolutely nothing going on in the world. Nada. Zilch. Zippo.

Thus, I offer for your consideration the worst television commercial in the world. WordPress’ Java console is being strangely cranky today — no images or hyperlinking available — so here’s the naked URL:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3iiaGD0koU

Burping robots. Seriously, who the hell thought that was a good idea?

The Best of 2006: Theatrical

(As seen in yesterday’s Metro, for those of you in meatspace.)

A top ten list, by definition, excludes a whole bunch of other worthy contenders. So feel free to seek out “Brothers of the Head”, “Friends with Money”, “Old Joy”, “Superman Returns”, “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” and “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story”, all of which came awfully close to making the final cut.

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Sacha Baron Cohen takes his merrily ignorant reporter – and his hidden cameras – across America for a convulsively funny, and disturbingly revealing look at that country’s insular culture. Friends are made, and lessons are sort of learned; it’s “E.T.” with naked wrestling and a bear.

Brick

Rian Johnson gives 1940s film noir a new context with his ingenious murder mystery, which takes place in a contemporary California high school. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a fine choice for the cranky shamus, and Nora Zehetner – recently seen as the manipulative Eden on “Heroes” – makes one hell of a femme fatale.

Caché

The Austrian director Michael Haneke delivers his doctoral thesis on guilt and paranoia with this harrowing study of a French TV personality (Daniel Auteuil) who starts receiving mysterious surveillance videotapes. For creepy, ambiguous intensity, there was nothing else like it … though that’s probably a good thing.

Children of Men

Alfonso Cuaron shakes off the shackles of the “Harry Potter” franchise with this astonishingly realized action-thriller set in a desolate, infertile future; not only is the movie’s fictional England utterly convincing, but Clive Owen’s subtle performance gives it a furious emotional kick.

The Departed

Martin Scorsese stops trying to win awards and gets back to making movies with a pulse. With top-flight performances and breakneck plotting, this is the best thing he’s done since ”
“GoodFellas” … and, ironically, might be the picture that gets him that Oscar after all. (Here’s hoping the Academy notices how good Martin Sheen is, too.)

Kings and Queen

Arnaud Desplechin’s astonishing film spends two and a half hours watching two Parisians struggle with their personal baggage. As gripping as any thriller, with incredible performances from Emmanuelle Devos and Mathieu Almaric. Naturally, it went unreleased in Canada for two years. Don’t wait that long to pick up the DVD.

Lady Vengeance

For the final installment of his vengeance trilogy – in which wronged characters exact horrible revenge upon the people they hold responsible for their suffering – Korean virtuoso Park Chan-wook delivers a study in icy justice that dares you to turn away from the screen, even as Lee Yeong-ae’s performance keeps you glued to it.

Pan’s Labyrinth

Guillermo del Toro’s magnificent fairy tale for grown-ups follows a young girl who flees from the Spanish Civil War into a supernatural underworld that may or may not be entirely in her head. Enchanting and disturbing in equal parts, this is the film del Toro has been working towards his entire career. See it on a big screen.

A Prairie Home Companion

The last film of the iconoclastic director Robert Altman is, somewhat fittingly, a quietly moving meditation on death – as experienced by the cast and crew of a live radio show on the night of their final broadcast. And the scene between Tommy Lee Jones and Virginia Madsen is a master class in acting.

Stranger Than Fiction

Will Ferrell makes his mark as a dramatic actor as an ordinary man who starts hearing the story of his own life, as written and read by Emma Thompson; even more impressive is Maggie Gyllenhaal, who couldn’t be ordinary if she tried, as the baker for whom Ferrell falls. Extra points for dragging Wreckless Eric out of the dustbin.

My other other gig.