Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Altman's Stoner Seventies Sci-Fi: Made in Canada

Give the man his lifetime achievement Oscar next Sunday. And before Robert Altman goes up to the podium and says whatever wonderful thing he will say (the part of the Oscar telecast I'm most looking forward to - actually, that and the performance of the pimp song) they will preface his remarks with the big highlight reel of his somewhat brilliant career, which will hopefully include a mysterious shot or two of Paul Newman wearing a big puffy furry hat, surrounded by gigantic icicles like the ones over at Superman's place. Most people will be wondering what the hell movie that's from. Except for you, dear reader. You will now know these are clips from Altman's totally forgotten 1979 sci-fi film, shot in Montreal on the hallowed grounds of Expo '67 - Quintet.

It was a huge bomb when it came out, and was quietly put out on VHS in the eighties by Key Video, a subsidiary of CBS-FOX Home Video that seemed to specialize in video distribution of other 'lost dog' pictures looking for a good home like Michael Ritchie's phenomenal Prime Cut and Richard Brooks' hysterical anti-gambling screed Fever Pitch, with Ryan O'Neal. Quintet is also a sort of gambling picture; the film is named after a strange version of backgammon the dwindling survivors of a new Ice Age play amongst themselves in a forsaken, unnamed and depopulated city - a game where the losers die and the winners live to die another day. They play in a big room with a chandelier hanging above the table and gigantic pictures in the background of starving African children and triumphant athletes that seem to be leftovers from Expo '67 dioramas (it was filmed in the 'Man and His World' pavillion).

I remember there being something vaguely Canadian about the whole movie in fact, though my memories of enduring a screening of this film are dim. I saw it on a crappy VHS tape where the image looked like either vaseline or bong resin had been liberally smeared on the lens, an effect I've since discovered was intentional. But I do remember little bits and pieces about the film, as one would recall a barely-remembered dream - 70's sci-fi production design, pretentious dialogue, heavy-handed symbolism and a stoner's flagrant over-use of the zoom lens. For better or worse, it did approximate what the end of the world would feel like in a sci-fi Canadian nuclear winter, which I think is something of an achievement in itself.

Quintet heralded the oncoming decline of Altman's career - his next film was the notorious misfire Popeye, which of course everyone (especially Robin Williams) makes fun of but I actually think is totally underrated - this mini-run of high-profile flops consigned him to about ten years of low budget stage-to-screen adaptations on the way back to his nineties resurgence.

Quintet is actually being released on DVD by Fox this spring in an Altman box set alongside A Wedding and A Perfect Couple (two similarly obscure late 70s works), with M.A.S.H. thrown in to beef up the sales. Don't know if it will be getting an individual release, though, so a thinking-person's video store might be your best bet to score a viewing copy. It's an endurance test, but also an oddity that really has to be seen to be believed.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Don Knotts...What Might Have Been

Was on the imdb today, reading up on Don Knotts, checking out the entry for his 1976 Disney comedy No Deposit, No Return (co-starring, co-incidentally, Darren McGavin) whereupon I came across this fun fact:

Don Knotts said that one day, while he was filming scenes for this project in the San Francisco airport, a director approached him and said he would like to cast him in a dramatic film one day. Although it never happened, Knotts said he was flattered by the offer.

The director was Sam Peckinpah.
I like to think it would have been for The Osterman Weekend.

Now I want to find out more about Don Knotts' dramatic side.

Silverio: The Bringing Of It On

From Mexico City, one of the most mind-blowing videos ever made -
Yepa Yepa Yepa, directed by Miguel Calderon.

(Muchos Gracias, Lathis.)

Sunday, February 26, 2006

I Have Questions About New Movies

1. Why do they keep remaking Underworld every month? Aeon Flux came out in December, Underworld: Evolution (the official sequel) in January and this coming Friday, Ultraviolet with Selma Bla-- sorry, with Milla Jovovich? What is next month's film about a leather-clad futuristic femme fatale fighting the forces of evil, ninja-style?

2. Why is there a new Paul Walker film every week? Last week he was rescuing 8 huskies from Antarctica, and this week he's in a remake/reinvention of an eighties Billy Crystal film, only without Gregory Hines. From what I've seen in the ads, Running Scared makes Guy Ritchie seem like Yasujiro Ozu.

3. Why would you put the word "Failure" in the title of a romantic comedy that the studio's marketing department already has a tough time working with? And didn't this movie already come out two years ago with Kate Hudson in it?

Saturday, February 25, 2006

More Consumer Goods from the East Bloc

The Trabant was as ubiquitous in the former East Germany as the VW Beetle on the other side of the wall - mass-produced by the state, and with a design that went more or less unchanged for almost thirty years. The body of the car was made of something called Duroplast as opposed to steel - Duroplast was a plastic/resin/cotton blend (which renders the mural pictured above unlikely, unless it depicts a car smashing through a giant eggshell). It would also take up to 10 years between a worker ordering and receiving one of these. The plant was dependent on heavy state subsidies, so when German reunification happened, demand plummeted and the line ceased production in 1991. You may recognize this car from Wim Wenders films, U2 videos, or U2 videos directed by Wim Wenders.

I saw a rusty looking Trabi parked on the street while strolling in Budapest; it had linoleum kitchen tiles glued to the floor of the car.

Here's a vintage East German TV commercial for the Trabant - I think the announcer is saying the car is fast, robust, able to handle turns nicely, and other exaggerations.

(JohnnyRankin, sie sind ein Prinz)

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Márka'd Research

When I was in Budapest, one of my priorities was to bring back examples of locally produced ephemera - perhaps a pair of Hungarian sneakers, or a vintage t-shirt. Something I could definitely not find anywhere else.

In a corner store I found what I wanted - a glass bottle of a Hungarian soft drink (or üditők in Hungarian) called Márka. It was a delicious sour cherry soda.

What was this Márka? What was this word on the bottlecap, Meggy? Was that magyar for cherry?

Did this mean there were there other flavours of Márka available? Do they still even make Márka? So many questions. And, in English anyway, not many answers.

I found a brief history of Márka and another tantalizingly-named üditők called Traubisoda on the manufacturers' website. If any of you understand Hungarian I would love to know more about Márka.

And here is a vintage Márka commercial from Hungary, probably during the Soviet era - It has made me thirsty all over again. (Nice going, McYeager.)

People Have The Power

News coming over the transom that EON Productions have scrapped the latest James Bond film, Casino Royale, in the early days of production in the face of the growing protest movement against their choice of Daniel (Layer Cake) Craig as the new 007 (the protest organizers were calling for a worldwide boycott of the film) is at once a huge relief (I mean, come on - a blond Bond?) and heartening, in the sense that it reaffirms a simple truth - people can, and do, make a difference.

It's hard to believe that a modest little on-line petition can expand, like a strong breeze on a brushfire, into a firestorm that can bring a film studio as big as Sony to its knees, but there it is. News over the weekend that Craig had two of his teeth punched out in a fight scene on set wound up being a harbinger of today's punching out of his career.

Let this be a lesson to arrogant film producers looking to cut corners by making idiosyncratic casting choices for beloved film franchises... 40-year-old men do not buy diecast Aston Martin models with little blond guys behind the steering wheel.

Now that the film has ceased production for now, this gives Albert R. Broccoli a chance to try and woo Brosnan back (if he'll have him) or maybe go back to their hopes for either Clive Owen (the most Connery-like choice) or Jude Law (a more Roger Moorian option). I mean, they wouldn't want to waste those no doubt spectacular Ken Adam sets they must have in place.

I guess the people at CraigNotBond.com are too busy celebrating their totally unexpected victory over Goliath to update their website, but I look forward to see whether they will be modest in their triumph, giving proper credit to the people who made it possible, or more Blofeld-like, stroking the metaphorical white cat and trying to parlay this win into acquiring Polaris missiles.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Corcovadonator

Schwarzenegger goes to Rio for the Carnival, circa the late seventies, espousing the Playboy philosophy; he's like a straight-gangsta-mack version of Richard (Moonraker) Kiel.

This gets pretty sleazy pretty fast.

(found via Youtubian alloftheinfo.)

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Sliding Doors

What do the pictographs at the doors of public transit in Toronto and Paris tell us about modern life there?

Toronto is the playground of black-turtlenecked beatniks with Van Dyke beards who wait patiently at the doors for the flashing of the green light - he may now push smoothly upon the bar and pass the threshold separating him from his bongo workshop or poetry recital.

Whereas in Paris life is obviously more stressful and cruel, to which our friend the hasty, yellow-clad lapin can attest; he watches with alarm as his hand is crushed by the blunt guillotine of the Doors of Indifference.

(rare bit)

Sunday, February 19, 2006


Some interesting places you should go...

Pointed out to me by mon homme Colin - a photo essay on Cuban television sets. When my cable company tries to get me to upgrade to digital, I should tell them I'm waiting until they can offer some Cuban state TV channels in the package.

A fascinating, exhaustive site devoted to bootleg toys. I personally am the proud owner of the 'Space Power Warrior' doll on the Star Wars page, procured for a dollar in the Dragon City mall; if I were Darth Vader, I'd sue. Or strangle.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Leg Doctor

This is the reason multi-region DVD players are necessary; some shows will never, ever, ever be on television or video in North America and one of them is Chris Morris' 2000 series Jam.

Jam was an experiment in comedy that could only be broadcast nationally if it were made by someone who already had a reputation - I can't imagine anyone walking in off the street and pitching this idea to a network. It was an incredibly bleak sketch show that dared to find the humour in horrific situations; disease, death, madness, evil, and terrible loss - all served up with a straight face, which didn't really help you figure out how to deal with it; the message was further obscured by tricked-out visuals (including closed-circuit camera) and a wall-to-wall soundtrack of ambient music. If you watched it in the middle of the night you'd have trouble sleeping. In fact, Channel 4 aired a late-night version, further remixed, called Jaaaaaaam.

This is a comparatively mild skit from the program (it gets much much darker than this) but I think it captures the tone well. I think even if you enjoyed what the show is trying to do you would still have your guard up the whole time.

If you like it, go get a Malata multi-region player in Chinatown for 60 bucks and order the disc from eBay or amazon.co.uk. If you don't like it, I'm sure you're not alone.

Substrom has more 'Jam' clips on his YouTube page. I love YouTube and I hope no one crashes the party for a little while longer.

I Heart Herzog

Werner Herzog made the news twice in the last few weeks - first by rescuing Joaquin Phoenix from his overturned car, then by getting shot in the leg during an interview with the BBC and reacting as if he'd merely been stung by a wasp. He might be a saint.

Herzog is going to be in Toronto in the springtime for a significant retrospective of both his fiction films (at Cinematheque Ontario) and his documentary work (at Hot Docs, where he will be presented with a career achievement award at the Isabel Bader theatre on May 5th). Can't wait.

If they're showing them at Hot Docs, I highly, highly recommend his documentary about his partnership with the one-and-only Klaus Kinski (My Best Fiend) and his stunning one-hour meditation on the aftermath of the first Iraq war (Lessons of Darkness).

If only this were real - recently discovered excerpts from Mr. Herzog's diary...

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Talking Book

Stevie Wonder's Sesame Street theme, circa 1972.

Nickrj, I could kiss you.

Snipes Takes The Biscuit

What happened to Wesley Snipes?

I ask this as the latest of his recent series of straight-to-video action films comes down the pipeline. The Detonator, indeed.

He used to be a major movie star in America - so big that sometimes the poster just called him 'Wesley'.

Or 'Snipes'.

You can hear the movie trailer announcer guy now, can't you?

Sure, he made a bunch of dodgy, 89-minute-long meathead vehicles like Drop Zone and Passenger 57, but he was also in highly-regarded films like Jungle Fever and White Men Can't Jump. He was even the star of his own action movie franchise - the Blade series (the first one of which I found very entertaining).

But all of the sudden something happened to his career - in the last year and a half, no less than 6 Wesley Snipes films have gone the straight-to-video route, bearing such unmemorable titles as 7 Seconds, The Marksman, and, ironically enough, Unstoppable.

Where did it all go wrong? In 1998, when he made the unnecessary sequel to The Fugitive, U.S. Marshals? The filmed-in-Montreal 'thriller' The Art of War? The second Blade film? The third Blade film, where he was demoted to co-star alongside Jessica Biel and Ryan Reynolds? (He subsequently sued New Line, the studio, because the script sucked...not sure how that worked out for him...)

Most of his direct-to-video work are interchangable action films where, according to the box copy, the fate of thousands (nations, even) rest in his hands. These films are usually shot in Eastern Europe, where perhaps they even get a theatrical release. But I think once movie stars make a bunch of straight to video films they will find it hard to get back their former box office mojo in America. I think a general moviegoing audience would just assume the star had retired, and snobs like me will just assume if a movie with a big star in it went directly off to Blockbuster that it's not worth seeing.

I'm not particualrly curious about viewing anything from Snipes' run of DTV junk, as opposed to Steven Seagal, who has been just as prolific as of late (I'm planning a weekend of renting six of those new Seagals and blissing out on hours and hours of greasy-ponytailed histrionics with eerily similar plots). But I do find Snipes' circumstance interesting; I just can't remember when such a name actor's career took a nose-dive so quickly and yet his output somehow increased at the same time.

ITEM! As a post-script of tragic inevitability, I read that Snipes and fellow DTV workhorse Jean-Claude Van Damme are going to be working together on a direct-to-video film called Hard Corps - check out this synopsis from 'Production Weekly':

"Van Damme will be playing battle-hardened combat veteran Patrick Sauvage, who has just spent the last three years fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Sauvage is hired to be a bodyguard to a former World Heavyweight Boxing champion. The boxer has run afoul of a dangerous Rap Music Mogul, and because of that he needs some serious protection. Van Damme is tasked with assembling a team of combat vets - "The Hard Corps" - to guard the boxer and his family. But interpersonal complications arise when the boxer suspects that his sister may be falling in love with his new bodyguard.

Production is scheduled to start early next month in British Columbia, before moving to Romania."

Are You On The List?

Here's the actual problem facing Queen St. West.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Queen Street Man: or, Who Cares?

Saw the 'Queen Street Man' video (easily found on the internet machine)- a shot across the bow at all the hipsters who go to the Drake and txt msg and buy indie rock records and wear vintage clothes with Spacing buttons - but it seems to have been made by people in the same scene (most likely on the older edge of the demographic) who are pretending they're either not a part of it or above it, an irony that hasn't really been incorporated into the work.

People around town seem to like it which is the only reason I checked it out, but as satire it's pretty benign, considering the rep - anyone who at least got through first year at film school saw similar attacks on similar scenes. I assume the guys who made it are the types who find it easier to communicate what they don't like about people they already feel superior to, as opposed to expressing what they believe in; I mean, it's about time someone took those people who wear white pants and Spacing buttons down a peg or two - who do they think they are? (In the interests of disclosure, I have paid for a few of those Spacing buttons - I don't wear them or keep them in a drawer - and I'm glad they exist.)

It reminded me of a story Mike Nichols once told about walking through Manhattan with the mighty Elaine May. They walked past a couple of smartasses on the street who wolfwhistled at her and mocked him as they passed. Without missing a beat May turned and said "What's the matter, guys? Tired of each other?"

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Re: Loaded

So Vice-President Cheney shoots his buddy, an old man, while quail-hunting.

It just seemed so rich in irony that there was almost no point in even pointing it out, let alone making fun of it. Although now that it has come out that the guy who got peppered has since suffered a heart attack as a result of his injuries, I'm glad I didn't get in on the schadenfreude too deeply.

The more that's leaking out about this, the incident itself and the subsequent cover-up...it just seems to me like the behaviour of drunks.

It might explain Cheney's terrible aim after an afternoon out hunting with the boys, his desperation to cover-up the mistake and lay low, and his boss, the dry drunk himself, also working overtime to keep it from getting out for as long as possible - almost a day - eventually sending his press secretary out yesterday to play down the incident, and even later today, with the president in possession of the news that the shooting victim's health had take a turn for the worse, choosing to go through with a scheduled photo-op with a college football team instead of just coming clean and trying to get a hold of this public-relations nightmare. The whole incident just seems shameful to me, as opposed to funny.

Well, at least here's Bush's opportunity to give Cheney a chance to spend more time with his family and set up a successor, if that's ever occurred to him.

Everything Must Go

There's a strange little dollar store in Chinatown, around the corner of Dundas and Spadina, that I enjoy popping into from time to time.

But last week I discovered its days are numbered.

Now they're having a 50% off sale on their already ridiculously low prices. Must go down into the basement and spend money. Hopefully they won't close the doors forever while I'm inside.

I will give them this - they had Nice soap.

And pastel scrubbers.

Plus it was reassuring to see some of today's most popular brands of men's personal grooming products can be found here, and at such reasonable prices.

I bought some Zhong Hua toothpaste (which promised it "helps avoid oral problems caused by inner heat") and some "Happy Bisthday" (sic) cards. Now I want to go back.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Trailer Park

Last summer the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin TX showed my 2005 production Infomercial Night (a sort of That's Entertainment of crappy late-night ads).

It played twice down there, double-billed with Pasolini's The Decameron and Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle respectively. Hope they invite me back.

The good people down there cut together a wicked little teaser that they ran during their previews. Just noticed it's still posted on their website - click on the man with the hands-free phone to see it.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

D'Accord Ordinateur

One of my unfulfilled projects is a Broadway musical Chris and I wrote called Computermachine, which was the stage version of the 1984 rom-com Electric Dreams, about the love triangle between a nerd, a cellist and a computer which comes to life when the nerd spills champagne on it (although the stage adaptation was more about a mad professor who creates a computer that can sing and dance and the young woman who comes in between them).

I think the time is right for this idea to get back on track. First of all, the eighties are back, what with this new "electroclash" movement, the new Miami Vice movie and Madonna running around in purple spandex. Second of all, all Broadway plays now are stage adaptations of movies that came out the late eighties (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and probably some others), so if we just open up the range a bit to include the early eighties we could have an Ice Pirates musical as well.

Electric Dreams is MIA on DVD, along with some other gems from the period that would also make great Broadway musicals, like Megaforce, Solarbabies and The Lonely Lady.

But to tide us all over and whet our appetites simultaneously, I found the next best thing - Giorgio Moroder's video, which recaps the whole film in three minutes. Featuring Philip Oakey, he of the Human League, apparently a major stylistic influence on Corey Feldman.

(DragonSwordFly has some good videos)

Friday, February 10, 2006

Watching TV in a Hotel Room in Tokyo

Stumbled upon this on youtube - thank you, Ghymes.

Crockett in the Marmalade

"While working on an international case, Burnett follows a lead to Hong Kong, where he meets up with some old friends and some older enemies..."

NeonLeon strikes again.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Turkish Jeffersons

Thanks, NeonLeon.

Coming Soon to a Cataract Near You

Are they trying to weed out all the epileptics in Toronto?

The wizards behind the Yonge & Dundas project are missing out on a golden marketing opportunity by letting those people walk around in the square without corporate logos on their shirts. Maybe they could get a couple of mascots in the mix, or set up some taste-test booths. And what the hell is that tree doing there?

When I was younger I thought the future would look like Blade Runner but it actually seems to be shaking out to be more like The Fifth Element.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Gone But Forgotten: TD Centre Cinema

Did you know there was once a 660 seat movie theatre in the Toronto-Dominion Centre? Look how foolish this city can be, letting go of a jewel like this...

It looks like a classy bank. Maybe they had safety deposit boxes near the popcorn stand. Maybe the popcorn stand used real gold in the golden topping...

Imagine walking through this lobby, past those Barcelona chairs, descending those stairs and watching a movie in this room...

There was a non-descript set of steps just south of King on Bay that led down to a modernist hallway and that was the shortest cut to get to the theatre. I have dim memories of going here with my family when I was very young to see Harold and Maude.

The mall in the TD Centre was the only commercial shopping concourse ever designed by Mies van der Rohe, at the very end of his career - not sure if he had a direct hand in the theatre design. Mies was so hands-on that he even stipulated all signage had to be white back-lit lettering (in a font he designed specifically for the complex) on black sheet metal plating; of course the current building management have since renovated everything and no longer maintain the integrity of the visual design - smart, smart, smart.

The Cinema opened in 1967 and closed in 1978, just at the dawn of the new multiplex era. The theatre itself is supposedly still there though. Let's open it back up. I'll meet you in the lobby once the restoration is complete - I'll be sitting in one of the Barcelona chairs.

(Thanks to Mantler for the pictures)

Harpy Harpy Joy Joy

Remember that Ren and Stimpy episode where Stimpy invented the Happy Helmet to make sure Ren was never unhappy again, and he cranked the remote control to the point where Ren was torn between delirious 'happiness' and psychotic rage?

That's how I think Prime Minister Stephen Harper must feel these days, deep down.

Running his campaign as a moderate alternative to Liberal corruption, acting all reassuring and reasonable and without an agenda to impose a Western chauvinism on the federation, all the while hoping to ride a crest of voter anger all the way to a majority, thinking then he could take off the Happy Helmet he had to wear to win and get to work.

Only the electorate may have wound up bolting that Happy Helmet on his head by actually electing him as this so-called moderate, held in check with an even shakier minority than his predecessor and no natural allies in the House of Commons. Now he has to keep up this 'nice guy' schtick even while in power; he didn't sign up for this shit. Can't wait for him to snap, or one of the wingnuts in his caucus to snap.

Here's the footage from his hotel suite on election night...the juicy part is halfway through the clip.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

SIFF Notes: Year of the Dragon

"What investigation? What Chinese Mafia? The investigation's in your mind!!!"

There's no better film to represent the lofty aims of the Saturn Intergalactic Film Festival than Michael Cimino's lunatic masterpiece, Year of the Dragon (1985).

Anyone who knows me at all knows that this film is my obsession, my recurring subject, my idea of the ultimate film. It is by far the worst film I have ever seen, to the point where it is off the scale and into the other camp. In my life there have been maybe five films that I would define as containing everything I ask for in a motion picture experience. This is one of them.

I saw it on opening day at the University Theatre, in 70mm no less. I went in without a lot of preconceived notions. It looked stylish and violent so I had to go, and it was directed by the man whose last picture virtually destroyed a major film studio. I knew it was co-written by Cimino and Oliver (Scarface) Stone. I knew who Mickey Rourke was but he hadn't made an impression on me yet. It was also the first 'restricted' movie I successfully snuck in to see. So I thought I knew, somewhat, what I was in for. Nothing, nothing could have prepared me for what was about to happen when the lights went down.

For the next two hours and sixteen minutes a crazy fever dream unfolded in eye-blistering colour and cinemascope, a tale of a racist police captain who tries to bring down the powerful chinese mafia in New York. Only this New York was primarily filmed on a maddeningly detailed recreation of New York built on a studio backlot in North Carolina (with some additional location work in New York and Vancouver). This film was unlike any other - a psychotic, unpleasant hero and a strangely compelling and sympathetic villain, except the film was firmly on the side of the lunatic. Watching the movie was like being attacked by a stampede of wild animals while being relentlessly tickled at the same time. The worst dialogue I had ever heard, being delivered exactly as purple prose should be delivered. A morality play with bent emotions, inexplicable turns in the plot, a mounting body count, and delirious camera movements and editing decisions that came together to create, for me, pure cinema by default. The fact that this film was absolutely sincere and at the same time absolutely out of control impressed me greatly.

And Mickey Rourke gave one of the greatest movie star performances I had ever seen - so over-the-top as the middle-aged Christ figure Stanley White, with a weird dye job that bounces around from brown to grey throughout the film, and yet Rourke throws everything he has at the part. When people laugh as to why Rourke is so huge in France, it's probably because of this performance.

As far as I was concerned this film could go on forever. I didn't find the film moving in an honest way, but in an artificial way that achieved a weird form of honesty through the intensity and the totality of its failure. I went to see it over and over again, sometimes dragging people I knew with me to blow their minds and bring them in on the joke, and also to see if I was the only one slack-jawed by the experience. And it only got better and weirder with repeat viewings. I even saw it one night at the Rio, the late lamented grindhouse on Yonge Street. During the Toronto film festival.

It only came out on DVD last year...I wanted to hand out copies of it to all my friends like a newborn's dad hands out the cigars. It came with a Michael Cimino commentary track. On the track he says, vis-a-vis his general creative intentions... "I'm not a teacher. I'm not a preacher. I'm a reacher."

Dragon has everything you could ever want in a movie:
- washroom soap dispensers getting shattered by gunfire
- old mafioso types screaming at people through their voicebox machines
- wiretapping nuns
- fedoras being provocatively thrown down on well-appointed desks
- people being grabbed by the lapels and shoved through doorways
- and lines like "I'm not Italian. I'm a Polack. And I can't be bought!!"

Oh, and Mahler's Resurrection Symphony. And Chinese pop songs. And a cover of Rod Stewart's Infatuation. And mournful mandolin solos.

I don't think they've built a movie theatre big enough to contain this film.

Who Wants To Be A Prime Minister?

I guess we're in the Stephen Harper era for sure now...last night CTV aired a 90 minute special called Canada's Next Great Prime Minister wherein 5 freshly-scrubbed political science students from across the land had to present their freshly-scrubbed ideas on how to make this nation greater, before the most august of panels - four of the five living ex-PMs (not counting Martin...Chretien was the no-show, but I'll bet you if Trudeau were still alive he would have skipped out on this thing as well).

So it was Canadian Idol for college-bound keeners, complete with a Mulroney on the stage and these leader-manqués reciting campaign trail boilerplate much as a contestant on a talent show would approximate their version of The Greatest Love of All - in fact the line "I believe the children are our future" wouldn't be out of place in either environment...

If I had to attach an ideology to this program it would be centre-right for sure, mostly by dint of the political bent of the panel and also the objectives of the show - the contestants who were most able to ape the sounds of a Liberal or Conservative campaigner were the ones most likely to be rewarded (with a 50,000 cash prize at stake) so any contestant proposing to nationalize industrial production would be lucky enough to even make the finals, let alone being spared a very public trip to the woodshed during them. One of the contestants mentioned obliterating the parliamentary system and replacing it with a 'human rights commission' overseeing everything - that was about as close to Allende as anyone tried to get. At any rate, these judges, as opposed to most modern TV talent show judges, were too busy enjoying this brief return to the limelight to bother taking these kids apart for being amateurs. Unlike politics, this entire exercise seemed naive and harmless.

But the fact that you could assemble four of our past heads of state on stage at the John Bassett Theatre to go through the motions of judging a karaoke contest says something about the country in a good and a bad way - you would never see a program like this in the United States - the ex-presidents are only seen together either at their peers' library openings or their funerals, with one notable exception...

Meanwhile, Canada always gets written off as a second-string, rinky-dink country, sometimes even by those who would run for the highest office in the land, and yet I could see ex-PM Harper agreeing to take part in a dog-and-pony TV show like this twenty years down the line...

Still, here they were, the former leaders. First off, they should never have let Turner out of the attic. He kept barking out advice whether or not it was solicited, or even relevant to anything, as if he was in a broad, crowd-pleasing play about a big crazy family, as the comically irascible, senile uncle who keeps wheeling in from stage left. Clark and Campbell have been in the public eye throughout the years. But five years ago you wouldn't have been able to score Brian Mulroney for one of these things - his son's success on TV has helped matters, to say nothing of the prevailing "winds of change" that have given his once-tarnished name back some of its value. You would think five years ago it would have been the kiss of death for a Conservative leader to publicly look to Brian Mulroney for counsel, but the statute of limitations on all that have lapsed, apparently, and Mulroney's smugly enjoying it all, much like Nixon did towards the end of his life. Can you blame him?

I don't think our 'next great prime minister' was anywhere on that stage, God help us. Our next prime ministers (great or more likely otherwise) are interning in a think-tank somewhere and we'll hear from them soon enough...check out pictures of the young Stephen Harper if you don't believe me; his high-school photos made him look like a stoner teenager, except he apparently didn't even smoke pot - i.e. the worst kind of teenager. They wouldn't have had him up on that stage and he wouldn't have wanted to be there either.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

The Saturn Intergalactic Film Festival

My friend Heat and I are inevitably going to be starting a film festival devoted to celebrating films which are so outlandish, and filmmakers whose collected works are so out of control, that just the simple act of viewing them would first require passing a NASA Class II space physical and a thousand hours of G-Force environment flight training just to keep your DNA from unraveling upon exposure. Films that once they are over will require you to wait in a specially-designed airlock to allow you to slowly decompress, lest your head cave in once you re-enter earth's atmosphere (i.e. leave the theatre too quickly or hit 'stop' on your remote control).

We call it the Saturn Intergalactic Film Festival. Saturn is probably the safest place to hold the festival, to spare the earth the brute force of the tsunamis and gale-force winds that would pummel the planet if y'all ain't, in fact, ready.

Here at the Telekino Times-Picayune we will be running occasional profiles of films and directors whose qualities have been deemed at once 'acceptable' (in terms of our programming mandate) and 'unacceptable' (in terms of the Geneva Conventions). Stay tuned for details in forthcoming SIFF features.

What One Man Can Do, Another Can Do

I read yesterday that the director Lee Tamahori was arrested in Hollywood for soliciting an undercover police officer. He's in his mid-50s and was dressed in drag when arrested. For some reason the LAPD are withholding the mug shot. I'm sure we'll be seeing it soon enough.

Not much is known of him anymore, if the low-level interest in the announcement of his arrest is any indication, though perhaps if he had been busted 5 years ago it would have been front-page news outside of the ANZAC region (he's a New Zealander). Tamahori made a fairly big international splash out of the gate with his first feature, the brutal Maori domestic violence spectacle Once Were Warriors in 1994 (with Temuera Morrison, now better known as the guitar-slinging bounty hunter Django Fett from Attack of the Clones). His American debut was the big-budget forties-pastiche Mulholland Falls, with Nick Nolte and a cast of fedora-topped slabs of ham like Michael Madsen. Didn't bother seeing that one, but I was mightily impressed by his next picture, The Edge - a survivalist saga with Anthony Hopkins, Alec Baldwin and a giant bear, with a screenplay by David Mamet at his loonily epigrammatic best ("What one man can do, another can do!"). The Edge is a very well-made "man's man" picture which comes down strongly on the side of brains in the old 'brains vs. brawn' debate (before the marketing department weighed in, its working title was Bookworm).

But things became increasingly non-distinguished from there. The boring Along Came A Spider featured Morgan Freeman (but curiously not Ashley Judd) in a standard-issue airport novellette adaptation where his no-nonsense detective plays cat-and-mouse with a criminal mastermind. It was so boring that they filmed it in Vancouver. I knew when it came out it would be the CBS Sunday Night Movie three years later and I might watch it then. Next was Die Another Day, the final Pierce Brosnan 007 outing, which looked a lot like a metrosexual version of XXX. And then last year, the official sequel to XXX itself, starring Ice Cube, which was subtitled State of the Union in North America and The Next Level everywhere else in the world. It was designed to get all the chavs out to the multiplexes, but it fell flat. And even though the IMDB currently lists Tamahori as having two films in development, this lurid turn of events should finish off his directing career for good, unless he has a spectacular explanation of Eddie Murphian proportions.

We'll know more soon, but it just seems to me like a clearcut case of career suicide. I mean there's whoring yourself out, and then there's whoring yourself out.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Ash Lee Roth

I think they might consider going on tour together. If (when) she has a coronary, he'll know what to do.

(image pilfered from the Onion's AV Blog...)