It’s a Struggle

About twenty years back, at the height of the last horror boom, Anthony Perkins gave an interview about the importance of killing off absolutely every single character — otherwise, some clever writer would find a way to bring them back for another unnecessary sequel.

I mean, what if the dog lives? he pointed out. The dog’s still alive! He’ll go off with a new family and the monster will go after them in the next movie!

I think it was an interview with Fangoria. They frequently got quotes like that.

I bring this up because I have seen “Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj“, which couldn’t get Ryan Reynolds to reprise the role of Van Wilder and so fashioned a sequel around the character’s dog, who goes off to a stuffy English college — accompanied by Kal Penn’s character, Taj, because the dog would get kind of boring after a while.

Sadly, Tara Reid does not return to stalk them.

Also, my reviews of “The Hamster Cage” and “Unnatural & Accidental” are online, if you need any further elaboration beyond Friday’s capsules.

You don’t, though.

Byte Me

Don't take that hipster pose with me, sonny jimSorry for the lack of updates this weekend … I brought a new laptop home yesterday, and I’ve been transferring files over for what seems like an eternity. You know that Windows XP Files and Settings Transfer Wizard thingie? It’s just a nasty little tease.

And no, thank you, I do not need to get a Mac. Hell, that campaign’s probably responsible for more people deciding to stick with the PC platform than anything Microsoft’s ever done. All hail Hodgman.

Check back in tomorrow for my review of “Van Wilder 2”. Short version: You might as well take your $14 and set it on fire. Those few fleeting seconds of incendiary brilliance will be far more entertaining than watching poor Kal Penn try to maintain his self-respect for an hour and a half.

Early Doldrums

The kid is not my son?Time was, the first weekend of December was a cinematic dead zone. Nothing of substance opened; the studios were waiting for their big Thanksgiving pictures to settle down, and it was too early to trot out the Oscar contenders.

This year, it’s still a dead zone … but there are seven movies opening anyway, since everything that opened last week has already had its chance to grab your movie dollar.

Factotum“: Matt Dillon is remarkably good as Charles Bukowski’s fictional alter ego, wobbling through a series of crappy jobs (and worse relationships) in the service of his art. It’ll be huge at campus film societies, just you watch.

Fuck“: It’s the most popular profanity in the English language, and Steve Anderson’s lightweight but engaging documentary allows several dozen celebrity talking heads to use it — or refuse it — at their pleasure. Kevin Smith, Billy Connolly and Drew Carey have the best anecdotes, of course.

“The Hamster Cage”: Larry Kent, the original bad boy of Canadian cinema — really, it’s in the press release — returns to filmmaking after a long absence with a dreadful DV comedy that tries to combine “The Celebration” and “Pet Sematary”. I think. Anyway, it’s atrocious. (Review not yet posted on Metro.)

The Nativity Story“: Catherine Hardwicke, the posturing hack behind “Thirteen” and “Lords of Dogtown”, reinvents herself as a provider of wholesome Christian haigiography. I thought politics was the last refuge of the scoundrel.

Turistas“: More cautionary sado-porn about American idiots in foreign lands, jazzed up slightly by the unquestionable professionalism of director John Stockwell, who took the gig because it offered him a couple of elaborate underwater sequences. Because, you know, that’s what people want to see in a torture movie.

“Unnatural & Accidental”: While Carmen Moore wanders the streets of Vancouver looking for her vanished mother, Callum Keith Rennie hits the bars encouraging Native women to drink themselves to death in his presence. Naturally, this is an indictment of us all, or something. (Review not yet posted on Metro.)

Number seven is “Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj”, which wasn’t screened for critics (huge shocker there), but I’ll be catching it later this afternoon.

You know, I could really use an Oscar contender right about now.

Same Planet, Different Worlds

Dear Leader Is Never WrongThis is fascinating: The New Haven Advocate reports that a master’s student at Southern Connecticut State University has proven, scientifically, that supporters of George W. Bush — and the Republican party in general — are, well, insane.

I wonder whether Fox News will even acknowledge the story. See, if they don’t report on it, then they’re doing that crazy thing where you deny reality … but of course, if they do report on it, then they’re acknowledging they might have a problem.

Nah, they won’t bring it up. Not while they’re fighting both the War on the War on Christmas and the War on Talking Penguins, surely …

Still Dreaming of That Combo Player

There can be only oneEngadget reports that Sony’s set-top Blu-ray player is finally shipping. Not bad, really; after all, the thing was only supposed to be available six months ago.

Of course, the $1299.99 pricetag is a bit annoying, when one considers that a PlayStation 3 lists for about half that … but good luck trying to find a PS3. Especially since the early availability estimate of 400,000 units for North America turned out to be kind of, well, overstated.

Still. The player’s finally available, claiming its rightful space on the shelf alongside Blu-ray units from Samsung, Panasonic, Philips and Pioneer. Which is encouraging, I guess, given that HD-DVD is still a single-manufacturer format … and that single manufacturer is having a little trouble with its second-generation players.

Did you know the Philips player was available exclusively at Wal-Mart, by the way? I didn’t. But then, nobody tells me anything.

March of the Penguin

... and I am king penguin!

“Happy Feet” dominated the Thanksgiving box-office, easily beating “Casino Royale” for the second time and outpacing the new crop of pictures by a considerable percentage.Gross over the holiday: $51.5 million. Cumulative: $100.1 mil.

Holy flippered crap.

I was sure word-of-mouth would kill it. Critical response has been wildly mixed. At the Sunday morning sneak I attended, small children were alternately bored and wailing; their parents were puzzled — to say the least — by the story’s darker turns. And the ending is a freakshow.

But people are going. Maybe its mushy message — about being yourself, even if that self is a tap-dancing penguin who gets exiled from his troop and reinvents himself as a kind of misfit messiah, ultimately saving the waterfowl of the Antarctic through the magic of dance — is genuinely connecting with audiences. Or maybe it’s just surfing the aggregate buzz from “March of the Penguins” and “An Inconvenient Truth”.

Beats the hell out of me. But even if I can’t understand what people see in his movie, I can still be very happy for George Miller. He’s told the story he wanted to tell, and somehow convinced a thousand or so CG artists to realize his vision. That kind of artistic will deserves to be celebrated.

Even if it’s being celebrated by penguins singing Queen at the top of their lungs.

“… The Only Real Monsters Are Human.”

Close personal fiendsThe Guardian has posted the transcript of Mark Kermode’s excellent, wide-ranging interview with writer-director Guillermo del Toro at the National Film Theatre, following a screening of del Toro’s marvelous “Pan’s Labyrinth”.

Click here for Part One; here’s Part Two.

Spoiler warning: While del Toro doesn’t give away too many specifics about “Pan’s Labyrinth”, he does discuss its themes in a manner that does give away some of the story. But if you saw it at the Toronto film festival, click away.

Also, while he doesn’t mention it in this interview, “Hellboy 2” will have robots in it. This alone guarantees its magnificence.

The Bond Age

You know their names, look up their numberSalon.com has published this piece by Allen Barra, in which the author revisits Ian Fleming’s 007 novels (non-subscribers can read it after watching a short ad).

The article isn’t what it could be — largely because Barra, after dismissing Fleming as “a writer of genre fiction”, seems more interested in discussing the response to the books than the books themselves — but it did remind me of last year’s cinematic assignment, in which my wife and I thought it would be a good idea to pass the sluggish winter evenings by watching the Bond films in chronological order.

It took us almost a year to get through them all, largely because they aren’t very good. We stalled out for several months after “The Spy Who Loved Me”, because I knew “Moonraker” would have to be next. And “Licence to Kill”? It’s even worse than you remember.

(Hey, look, I’m doing that “after the jump” thing!)

Continue reading The Bond Age

Oh, Look, More Movies

I hear there's enlightenment at the end of this pathRemember when the Friday after Thanksgiving was quiet, because all the big guns had opened on the Wednesday?

Yeah, I remember that, too. Sure was nice.

Bobby“: Emilio Estevez means well, he really does, but he just isn’t a very good director. Never has been. And casting himself opposite Demi Moore — out of the 20 or so other roles he might have played — induces some really painful “Wisdom” flashbacks.

The History Boys“: It’s a filmed play, so it’s static, stagey and awkwardly theatrical when it most needs to be cinematic. (Also, the subject matter kind of reads over here as “Dead Poets Society, with a Reach-Around”.) But Richard Griffiths is marvelous; if you’ve only seen him in the “Harry Potter” movies, you have no idea what he can do with a well-placed adjective.

Old Joy“: It’s a deliberately tiny movie about two guys and a dog who go on an overnight camping trip, and yet it’s the biggest experience of the bunch. It’s only playing for a week at the Bloor Cinema; you really should make the time.

Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny“: Yes, it’s the same joke that’s been driving the band all along, but it’s a joke that still works. JB and KG continue to bluster impressively, the songs are terrific, and John C. Reilly owns the role of Sasquatch.

Volver“: After openly loathing “Talk to Her”, and having been more intellectually impressed than emotionally engaged by the stylistic gamesmanship of “Bad Education”, I am indeed impressed to see Pedro Almodovar tell a story about people whose motivations and feelings are recognizably human. And Penelope Cruz is as good as you’ve heard.

Not much going on this weekend. Kinda feeling like I should see “The Fountain” again, though.

Time and Tide

Explain this to me like I'm a five-year-old ... Tony Scott’s “Deja Vu” is not the best thing he’s ever done, but it’s the best thing he’s done in a long time, insofar as you can watch it without thinking you’re about to have a seizure.

Not that Scott has abandoned his fixation on mixed-media cross-cutting, which first surfaced in “Enemy of the State” and “Spy Game”, but bloomed so fully — and so pointlessly — in “Man on Fire” and “Domino”; it’s just that all the manic stimulation finds an appropriate subject in this jangled time-travel picture.

Imagine “Back to the Future” as directed by the Oliver Stone of “Natural Born Killers” and “Nixon”, and with a chronological span of about four days instead of 30 years.

Oh, and the role of Doc Brown is played by Adam Goldberg, and Jim Caviezel is the Libyans. It makes as much sense as anything else in the picture.

Also opening today, but as yet unposted to finally available on the Metro review page:

Deck the Halls“: It feels like someone dropped Matthew Broderick and Danny DeVito into the Steve Martin and Eugene Levy roles written for an unused “Cheaper By the Dozen” Christmas sequel. I hope the catering was good.

The Fountain“: Darren Aronofsky creates a melancholy sci-fi epic, as elegant in its construction as “Pi” and “Requiem for a Dream” were ragged. Unfairly beaten down during the film festival, probably because of the trippy sap-suckling sequence. Yes, it overreaches, but it’s still quite moving.

UPDATE: Links to the other reviews are now live.

My other other gig.