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.

Altman

... and you can put your weed in it.Here’s a funny thing: I wasn’t surprised in the least to learn that Robert Altman has died.

Maybe it’s that he’s been in notoriously ill health for so long, or that his last film, “A Prairie Home Companion”, was so suffused with a sense of mortality, but I kind of had a feeling this was coming. And this way, he goes out on a good movie instead of another Altmanesque failure.

Plenty of critics will step forward to defend Altman as an American master. I’m not one of them; he was a wildly inconsistent and self-indulgent filmmaker, and if he didn’t have a solid script behind him, his vaunted improvisational technique with actors could result in some dreadful films.

Consider the 1970s films Fox released earlier this year: Yes, “M*A*S*H” is as good (and as topical) as it ever was, and “A Wedding” has its moments … but who’d want to revisit “Quintet” or “A Perfect Couple”?

But that’s how it worked. Yes, we got “Nashville”, “The Company” and “Vincent and Theo”; we also got “Beyond Therapy”, “Pret-a-Porter” and “Cookie’s Fortune”. The bad ones were really bad, but the good ones were worth it, mostly. (I’m sorry, but I still think “Gosford Park” stops dead when Stephen Fry turns up.)

So there we are. A consistently inconsistent director makes a movie about death, and dies. There’s poetry in that, surely.

And I suddenly have a hankering to watch “The Gingerbread Man”.

New Problems

I'm hiding somethingOkay, so Metro is posting my reviews, but they’re no longer putting them up on the website’s Movies section. (It’s not just me, either; Rick’s stuff went sideways last weekend as well.)

You can find them by searching the site for the movie title, or you can let me do it for you:

Casino Royale

Fast Food Nation

For Your Consideration

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints

Let’s Go to Prison

And there’ll be more tomorrow …

UPDATE: Whoops. Turns out Metro’s just created a separate subpage in the Entertainment section for reviews. Link bar updated accordingly.

Tuxedo Confusion

Penguin. Tall penguin.Final numbers have yet to be released, but “Happy Feet” appears to have beaten “Casino Royale” at the North American box-office.

Wow.

Not that a $40.6 million take for Bond 21 is in any way a bad thing, but the thought that “Happy Feet” could beat it (with an estimated $42.3 million) is a real shock.

Sure, it’s half an hour shorter and on a bajillion screens, and sure, Warner promoted the snot out of it … but, really? Word of mouth didn’t start to cripple it by Sunday morning?

Oh, and in entirely unrelated news, the Academy has announced its short list of contenders for the Best Documentary Feature award. The list of 15 titles includes such shoo-ins as “An Inconvenient Truth”, “Deliver Us from Evil” and “Dixie Chicks: Shut Up & Sing“, as well as a quartet of Iraq titles and the heavily-buzzed “Blindsight”, which naturally I managed to miss at TIFF.

“Jesus Camp” is in there, too. I still can’t believe nobody’s releasing it in Canada, what with the Ted Haggard controversy and all. Doesn’t Odeon have the domestic rights to Magnolia’s films?

Idiosynchronicity

I hate you for your freedomCG movies take years to produce, so there’s no question that George Miller’s “Happy Feet” was in the works long before Luc Jacquet’s “La Marche de l’Empereur” became Warner Independent’s smash hit “March of the Penguins”.

What’s remarkable, though, is how similar the computer-animated movie is to the original French version of the documentary — at least at first.

The original cut of “Marche”, for instance, had no narration. The penguins spoke directly to one another, their voices supplied by the French actors Charles Berling and Rohmane Bohringer. Their courtship was structured as a series of poetry exchanges.

The penguins of “Happy Feet” court through rhyme, too, though it’s not quite as high-minded a process: These birds sing pop songs to one another, in the style of “Moulin Rouge”, belting out tracks like Prince’s “Kiss” or Elvis’ “Teddy Bear” to the accompaniment of an invisible orchestra.

Each penguin has a specific “heart song” that he or she must find in order to procure a mate; Miller, naturally, has decided to tell the story of the one penguin who is different. Unable to sing, little Mumble communicates his heart song through the magic of tap dancing .. and his special difference will ultimately, and quite literally, change the world.

Whether or not you buy into “Happy Feet” will probably depend on how willing you are to follow Miller on his vision quest. Strictly on the evidence of “Babe: Pig in the City”, I was willing to follow him pretty far — for my money, it’s the best fairy-tale movie produced in the English language — but there are so many different tones and ideas fighting for screen time here that the movie becomes an exhausting mess long before it reaches its ridiculous finale … where Mumble, having been exiled from his home by the troop elders whose religious fundamentalism has led them to conclude that his tap dancing is an “abomination” in the eyes of their god, returns triumphant with a beeping web of circuitry affixed to his back.

I thought he’d come home as a suicide bomber.

Of course, you don’t get that kind of deeper meaning in a movie where Robin Williams voices two ethnic sidekicks, but Miller’s staging made it seem possible. I don’t know whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I will say that “Happy Feet” is one of the year’s strangest, and most personal, pictures. For what that’s worth.

Oh, and “Let’s Go to Prison” sucks.

My other other gig.