January 26, 2007

Friday Talkback

Sound off on this week's reviews:
Next week: Something creepy, kooky, spooky, and ooky.

January 23, 2007

Professional Commentary on the Oscar Nominations

Best Picture
Babel = barf
The Departed = yay
Letters From Iwo Jima = yay
Little Miss Sunshine = whatever
The Queen = fine

Leonardo DiCaprio, Blood Diamond = say what?
Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson = whatever
Peter O'Toole, Venus = cool beans
Will Smith, The Pursuit of Happyness = LOL
Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland = rockin'

Penelope Cruz, Volver = no comment
Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal = cool beans
Helen Mirren, The Queen = fine
Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada = whatever
Kate Winslet, Little Children = yay

Supporting Actor
Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine = yawn
Jackie Earle Haley, Little Children = fine
Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond = give us free
Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls = day late, dollar short
Mark Wahlberg, The Departed = interesting...

Supporting Actress
Adriana Barraza, Babel = fine
Cate Blanchett, Notes on a Scandal = fine
Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine = yay
Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls = yawn
Rinko Kikuchi, Babel = whatever

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Babel = barf
Martin Scorsese, The Departed = yay
Clint Eastwood, Letters From Iwo Jima = yay
Stephen Frears, The Queen = fine
Paul Greengrass, United 93 = yay

Foreign Language Film
After the Wedding, Denmark = fine
Days of Glory (Indigenes), Algeria = N/A
The Lives of Others, Germany = fine
Pan's Labyrinth, Mexico = yay
Water, Canada = whatever
ASIDE: No Blackbook = yay

Adapted Screenplay
Sacha Baron Cohen and Anthony Hines and Peter Baynham and Dan Mazer and Todd Phillips, Borat Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan = whatever
Alfonso Cuaron and Timothy J. Sexton and David Arata and Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, Children of Men = yay
William Monahan, The Departed = yay
Todd Field and Tom Perrotta, Little Children = barf
Patrick Marber, Notes on a Scandal = whatever

Original Screenplay
Guillermo Arriaga, Babel = barf
Iris Yamashita and Paul Haggis, Letters From Iwo Jima = yay (but I couldn't take a Haggis hat-trick)
Michael Arndt, Little Miss Sunshine = yawn
Guillermo del Toro, Pan's Labyrinth = yay
Peter Morgan, The Queen = fine

HONORARY AWARD (Oscar statuette)
Ennio Morricone = yay

Sherry Lansing = whatever

Read the rest of the nominations here.

January 19, 2007

Friday Talkback

Release the hounds:
Next week: a Sundance sojourn; more musicals; and the latest addition to our "Must-Own" list.

January 16, 2007

The Fate of the World Rests on Jack Bauer / The Last Round of Your Life

I don't know how many other people traded the Golden Globes for "24", but how about that four-hour premiere?

Jack Bauer's always been an action movie superhero, but have the "24" writers been reading those Chuck Norris-style facts about him across the internet? The safety of America seems to rest in his arms a little too knowingly. The world has gone to shit in the two years that Jack has been in the hands of the Chinese government: terrorist attacks have happened all across the country, and America is apparently several signatures away from becoming a police state. Now that he's returned, complete with a Die Another Day-esque entrance, the greatest emotional drama that the show has to offer seems to be questioning whether or not he still has the ability to break faces and take names. Even when the final whammy of the four-hour block comes around (highlight for spoiler: Valencia (California) gets nuked), it happens immediately after he breaks down and decides that he's had enough. That'll teach you to quit, Bauer.

Will it keep going like this? Is the series out-and-out condoning the use of Middle Eastern "internment camps"? We'll have to see where this season takes us.


Anyway, now that Sylvester Stallone's sappy, nostalgic Rocky Balboa is shuffling out of theaters, it makes me realize that 2007 is seeing an uprising of older stars, returning to their most popular characters of decades past. Why now? The short answer: video games.

Rocky Balboa is, after all, dictated by the idea of a video game. Although Sly was clearly inspired by the computer-determined outcome of a filmed sparring match between Muhammad Ali and Rocky Marciano, Balboa is convinced back into business by a genuine CGI simulation between the current champ and the former champ in his prime. But, y'know, despite all of the old jokes everyone kind of forgets the "in his prime" part. The Rocky series had been stale since Rocky IV--something that Stallone seems to acknowledge in his in-film comment "that's probably the '70s"--so why create this film, which is just another retread orchestrated as a funeral procession? Because technology told him that it was possible? Pride obviously brought Stallone himself into the training room and the ring, but I'd love to know if any computer manipulation was involved in the making of Rocky Balboa. Oh, and don't forget that Rambo IV will be headed our way, too.

Indiana Jones IV is closer to fruition than it's ever been, or so they tell us. I'm the one person in about a thousand who really enjoyed Firewall, but it was its manic pace and Harrison Ford's authoritative technobabble that really sold it for me. But was the film meant to be some kind of plea that the 64-year-old Ford was still capable of performing Indy's antics? In that case, it was a pathetic attempt: Ford can still look angry and wax philosophic better than anybody I know, but one wrestling match with Paul Bettany doesn't cut it. Although I hope that Spielberg will stick with stuntmen, with Lucas in the wings I fear that we'll be seeing a lot more CGI than what a peek into the Ark of the Covenant requires. Think of that moment in Star Wars: Episode III when Count Dooku leaps off the balcony, but blown up to feature-length status.

Most telling is Clint Eastwood voicing Harry Callahan for a
Dirty Harry video game alongside Laurence Fishburne and Gene Hackman (!). I've got nothing against it on principle; as much as the sequels avoid the confrontational political debates of the original Dirty Harry in order to turn Callahan into a superhero (not unlike Jack Bauer, natch), I'm a fan of Magnum Force and The Dead Pool. But what confuses me is that Eastwood has spent the last decade and a half--since Unforgiven, of course--avoiding Harry like the plague. It's understandable, considering his advancing age, but he seems more annoyed in the sense that he's passing himself off as "better" than the material: the complaints that he lodged when he apparently fought to make Million Dollar Baby (the suits kept bringing up Dirty Harry 6 as an alternative). Not to mention that the now-forgotten half of his two Iwo Jima films, Flags of Our Fathers, seemed to be enough of an indignant response to heroic iconography that maybe, just maybe, we'd get the point that he didn't want to be called "Dirty Harry" anymore. But despite his protestations of being a "serious" filmmaker now, the Dirty Harry video game reveals that Eastwood really would like one more shot at the title.

What does it all add up to? Walter is right when he mentions in the
FFC '06 Top 10 that filmmaking has gotten a little too advanced for our own good, but the result doesn't end with the democratization of art. The older generations of filmmakers are turning their own art--films, video games and beyond--into one last stab for relevance in the form of a sickly nostalgia piece. The original films are there and will remain there in the same sense that sequels can be ignored, but there's no doubt that failed attempts leave a bad taste of desperation in our mouths, knowing that our final exposure to the characters that we grew up with (as we know them) will be an unconvincing plea against their own obsolescence, as Rocky Balboa turned out to be. I don't mean to be a defeatist about it, but it's not like the track record has been good thus far: for every brilliantly seething Ray Liotta in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, we get at least one feeble, unrecognizable Sean Connery and an aggressively mediocre re-imagining of From Russia with Love. Unlike what Rocky Balboa implies in its final moments, Hollywood stars don't really fade away anymore--everyone witnesses the descent.

And yet as filmgoers, sometimes we can't resist, because we can't do anything about the silent hosanna that invades our brains when we hear the news, that constant hope that it'll be good, or even that wish that our personal favorite character will be next on the list. As for me personally: it's no big secret that Darkman is one of my very favorite films--it's one of the few movies that totally submits itself to the world of comic books, and it even acts as a sly criticism of Tim Burton's Batman--so I wouldn't mind seeing Liam Neeson step back into the bandages in some form or another. Neeson is past the age of 50, but Darkman begged for some extension beyond one film, and the direct-to-video sequels were just travesties. (Bill tells me that an R-rated cut of Book of Love executes one of the most hilariously speedy endings imaginable; I would counter that with Darkman III: Die Darkman Die.) All I want is one brief detour off the "high road" that he's been on since Schindler's List; a return to his roots.

Are there any film series/characters/actors you're dying to see back in the saddle, despite your misgivings?

January 12, 2007

Friday Talkback

The peanut gallery is now open:
Scroll down for more discussion topics from Ian Pugh and Travis Mackenzie Hoover.

January 11, 2007

CanCon: The Last Stand

A couple of disturbing notes from the CanCon wilderness.

1. Decided to go back to my stomping grounds at the Film Reference Library and watch myself more Canadian movies. Specifically, Canadian films made from the mid-sixties to about 1980, when the groundwork was still being laid and things were up for grabs. There were Quebecois films to see, and hybrid documentary-fiction hoo-has: specifically, things beyond the big names in the CanFlick canon. Unfortunately, a little digging unearthed two unpleasant surprises:

a) most of the Quebec movies were crusty VHS tapes...that were unsubtitled. Nobody in English Canada had cared about them to begin with, and the intervening years had made them more obscure- and nobody was filling the gap with DVD releases with plentiful extras. So a whole avenue of Canadian film (and by all accounts, the superior avenue) was cut off due to apathy.

This left me with the Anglo features. Of which I made the second unpleasant discovery:

b) Aside from the big names, there are about eleven titles from that period in the library. Not an exaggeration. And this is the premier place in Toronto, if not Canada, to do film research. So an entire, crucial period of Canadian filmmaking is more or less lost to human eyes.

But that's not as bad as what happened next.

2. Discovered the minor Canuck thriller The Pyx at my local alternative video store. I was disappointed, however, to find that the print they had secured was disastrously bad: sometimes even broken frames could be seen, and the fading of the image was disconcertin. I was annoyed for a minute, but then decided that that was the luck of the draw.

But then later I wondered: was it? Films as mediocre (or worse) than The Pyx had gotten the royal treatment from major studios- but it was The Pyx that got the bum's rush. And I realized: there is nobody owning a Canadian film library (or more likely, individual sources dribbed and drabbed from here and there) who had the resources to fix up the negative and strike a minty-fresh print. I made a second realization: this is what happens if you're a Canadian film. You get forgotten no matter how good, or good enough, you might be.

Faithful readers of the site know of my annoyance with standard Canuck film practice. But the way to fix what you don't like is to understand it. You have to watch and study; to see what tendency comes from where and how we wound up in this mess. At present, it is next to impossible for someone to get a complete impression of our country's cinema- it sits mouldering in a vault, a little more deteriorated every day, on its way to at best neglect and at worst total disintigration. And if we lose touch with what is about to disintigrate, we lose the ability to understand it and change its course.

We will continue on our one-way ticket to irrelevance if we burn the Library of Alexandria. And I don't see a way to stop it. If anybody has ideas on how to stave off disaster, I'm all ears.

January 08, 2007

Max Headroom vs. 1987

Stumbled onto this little beauty earlier this evening.

Apparently, in November 1987, a video pirate in the Chicago area hijacked several local stations (WGN-TV and WTTW, a PBS affiliate) several hours apart, wearing a rubber Max Headroom mask and engaging in vulgar and stupid tomfoolery before dropping his pants and getting spanked with a flyswatter. Direct from YouTube, here's the full version from WTTW, the second and final broadcast, interrupting an episode of "Doctor Who":

Hilarious. Being that he's unavailable on home video, I'm largely unfamiliar with Max Headroom and his TV series, but for a character that appears to be some kind of 1984 thoughtcriminal for the age of modern media, it seems a little hypocritical that he would be pimping for Coca-Cola.

The prank was apparently intended to air over WGN's sports report: Headroom Pirate states that "this guy's better than Chuck Swirsky," referring to another sports reporter for the news station. It worked, but WGN switched transmitters, and the first broadcast only lasted twenty seconds without sound.

A brief look at responses from the "Modem World" found within contemporary hacker mag THE TOLMES NEWS SERVICE (found in transcripts of issues #14 and #15--scroll all the way down on #15) seems to imply that there was some kind of rabid Max Headroom underground. ("We'll strike again," one comments. "I can guarantee it.") Maybe it was just the work of a perturbed fan, angered that Headroom's titular series had just been cancelled? The fact that the rebroadcast interrupts "Doctor Who" seems to fall in step with that theory--if you can't hit your original target, who better to release your frustrations on than the warhorse sci-fi series that outlasted yours? Gotta love the moment where "Doctor Who" re-enters: "far as I can tell, a massive electric shock; he died instantly."

Still, the whole incident seems more orchestrated as a big fuck-you to the cultural establishment--the way that Headroom Pirate takes the piss out of the Cola Wars and Headroom's sell-out involvement (misappropriating Coke slogan "catch the wave" to Pepsi, then indifferently tossing the can), how he invokes nostalgia, presumably out of escapism (he sings the theme from anti-animation classic "Clutch Cargo"), and of course, how he flips society off--with a dildo on his middle finger, no less. He's aware of the low humor, so when he mimics "piles" and comments that he just "laid a giant masterpiece," he implies that maybe the '80s just needed to be dumped on. Headroom Pirate did indeed craft something of a little masterpiece: he's a rebel without a cause, so desperate to express discontent in his cultural era that his "allegiance" switches sides countless times--between channels, programs, and brand names--until he finally concludes that it's all just screwed up.

Here's a CBS news report filed the following night:

In a lot of ways, it's funnier than the clip itself. Dan Rather's stiff, humorless intro; the fact that the only scenes from the clip featured are those that could potentially offend audiences (dildo flip-off and flyswatter spanking); the Marv Albert lookalike who got so upset that he wanted to bust the TV set. (He really did.) THE TOLMES NEWS SERVICE lodges in a few more examples of public outrage and FCC threats. So in other words, the plastic-fantastic '80s receive disruption in their status quo with a massive electric shock of flyswatters smacking buttocks, and they die instantly. He was never caught, and he's still unidentified; I'm sure Headroom Pirate beams with pride.

On the mothersite: Overwhelming! Incredible! Told the untamed way! THRILL as Travis Hoover attacks a schlocky double-bill of King Dinosaur and The Jungle; meanwhile, Walter goes head-to-head with Takeshi Kitano's ego and Takeshis'. If you missed it, be sure to check out the post below this one -- Friday talkback, Alex's year-end wrap-up, and discussion of the nature and necessity of Bottom 10 lists.

January 05, 2007

By Popular Demand: Friday Talkback

I guess it's somewhat redundant this week, but consider this the institution of the Friday Talkback. Here's your chance to sound off on the past five days' worth of content--or anything remotely germane, really:

Children of Men + Letters from Iwo Jima (Walter Chaw)
Dane Cook's Tourgasm (Ian Pugh)
A Star is Born (1976) (Travis Mackenzie Hoover)
That's My Bush!: The Definitive Collection (IP)
Conversations with Other Women (TMH)

In subsequent editions, this may get more elaborate.

On a side note: did anyone catch "The Office" last night? Poor Pam. Poor, delicious Pam.

UPDATE: Our own Alex Jackson has just posted his personal best/worst list at I VIDDIED IT ON THE SCREEN. Y'know, Alex is pretty punk; I'm honoured to have him on the team.

January 02, 2007

Top 10 Talkback

So: our Top 10 lists are up. Have at it.