Film Festival Triage

Attending the Toronto Film Festival takes work. I picked up the festival program yesterday and have been pouring over it ever since, trying to read as many of the summaries of the 352 films being screened and narrowing them down to 15 first choice and 15 second choice picks, which I will attempt to schedule without conflicts (and time to eat) between Sept. 7-16. Of course not much screens on the first Thursday and by the final Saturday most of the directors, actors and producers have left town, leaving the last films without their fantastic Q&As, so subtracting one day for a pre-natal class (um, not part of the festival for most people) and we are looking at a two-films-per-day regiment. I know some people attend 30 films, even 50, but they’re crazy.

This will be our 10th year at the festival, which has been part of my September almost every year since I first moved to Toronto and volunteered as an usher at the dearly departed Uptown Theatre on Yonge St. That year I saved seats for Cher and her entourage, who were there to see her in “If These Walls Could Talk”; met Bob Hoskins while he was waiting for the Q&A for “The Secret Agent”; stood at the back of the theatre and watched “Bound,” the Wachowski Brothers first film; and I tore the ticket of a 23-year-old first-time director named Shane Meadows, who was there with his film “Small Time” and the short “Where’s The Money Ronnie?”

I didn’t volunteer after that because I wasn’t able to watch enough films without being a terrible usher. This year I’m planning to see “This Is England,” the sixth of Meadow’s films to premiere at the festival. He’s been at each of them and his talks after the screenings have always been hilarious. It’s that chance to interact with the filmmakers that makes the experience worthwhile – you not only get to see some fantastic films, but you get to talk to their creators minutes after they finish. Let’s see a director’s DVD commentary compete with that.

Anyway, I’ve probably got another 100 or so films to read up on, so I’ll have to fill you in on my choices later. (The picture is of myself, Shane Meadows and Paddy Considine at the scrceeing of “Dead Man’s Shoes” in 2004.)

Late Night with... Who Cares?

Where were you during the Late Night Wars? There was a time not that many years ago when watching David Letterman or Jay Leno defined your pop culture affiliation. Was the crusty Letterman and his ubiquitous Top 10 list a must-see or did you line up behind the genial Leno?

This was of great cultural import in the months and years that followed Leno inheriting Johnny Carson’s desk at the helm of The Tonight Show, a year before Letterman bolted for CBS and The Late Show. The ratings battle that followed was breathlessly reported and analyzed and people choose their camps - you couldn’t be in both. His slot at Late Night was given to Conan O’Brien, a then unknown writer and producer for The Simpsons.

Flash forward to today and the only late night hosts anyone talks about anymore are Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. The Late Night Wars are over, and the satirists won. But with O’Brien hosting the Emmy’s last night it got me wondering if there may be another storm brewing over The Tonight Show. In 2004, Leno announced he would retire in 2009 and make room for O’Brien, who NBC had named his heir apparent. There was talk that Leno was pushed out early to keep O’Brien from leaving to another network’s 11:30 slot, like the Letterman debacle.

Can you say seller’s remorse? Leno isn’t saying anything, but as his early retirement approaches there are rumours he isn’t quite ready to leave. He didn’t appear at the annual TV critic’s tour this summer, which just added to the speculation. Is it really a job worth battling over anymore? The audience is diluted, celebs can promote their latest projects almost anywhere and there are, quite frankly, better things to watch during that time slot. If a monologue is told in an empty theatre, does anybody care?

Risky Business

Did Tom Cruise really get kicked out of his studio for bad behaviour?

When Cruise dropped his long time publicist and discovered he loved the media and really, really, loved Katie Holmes, I hopped right on his crazy train. Here was an actor that had assiduously created the persona of an old-style A-lister. People called him the hardest-working man in showbiz and his image remained squeaky clean, even during his divorce to Nicole Kidman. Anyone who dared speculate about his sexuality in print found a hail of lawyers raining down upon them.

Once Tom found Katie, all of that changed. Soon there wasn’t a camera he didn’t love and the formerly reserved actor’s appearance on Oprah spawned the phrase "Jumped the couch." He publicly feuded with Brooke Shields about post-partum depression and the use of drugs and called psychiatry a Nazi science. Scientology, which he’d long been an adherent, began to play a more open role in his life. People called him crazy and the label started to stick as rumours swirled around Holmes’ pregnancy, the birth of Suri and TomKat's subsequent media aversion.

It all came to a head this week when Sumner Redstone, the chairman of Viacom (Paramount Picture's parent company) publicly kicked the superstar to curb. "As much as we like him personally, we thought it was wrong to renew his deal. His recent conduct has not been acceptable to Paramount," Redstone said. "It's nothing to do with his acting abilities. He's a terrific actor. But we don't think that someone who effectuates career suicide and costs the company revenue should be on the lot."

Career suicide? While Redstone claims Cruise's antics may have hurt the box office take of Mission: Impossible III by as much as $150 million, the film is still expected to bring in $400-million worldwide. Cruise has been working with Paramount for 14 years and his most recent films have averaged around $100 million each.

I’ll admit that Cruise has been off the rails, but has it really been that detrimental? It’s been fun blogging material and he is incredibly off base about psychiatry, but who was going to take his opinions seriously in the first place? Was being hummingbird excited on Oprah so terrible? Maybe M:I3 sales were down because nobody was really looking for a sequel and John Woo’s M:I2 sucked (there, I said it).

Clearly this was about money and the obscene amount of it that Cruise was getting before the studio got its taste. Which is fine – it’s called show business and cold, hard cash talks. I don’t see why the studio need to hide its reasoning behind such a flimsy excuse as Cruise’s antics. Mel Gibson’s recent drunken racist rant didn’t get him cut off by the studio putting out Apocalypto, and it is Disney no less. They obviously believe he’s still an earner so they are turning a blind eye. If Cruise could still make studios billions, he could jump on as many couches as he liked.

The Superficial Friends

I always suspected there must be a reason that some celebrities are so famous. Many of them have fame far beyond their talent, so there must be something hidden from view. It turns out that some of our younger, thinner stars are actually superheroes. I knew it was something like that.

Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie and the Olsen twins are dedicated to selfishness and social ignorance -- they are The Superficial Friends! Working from the Great Hall of Anorexia they are sent to battle Stephen Colbert, who’s jokes are so smart they are making people’s brains leak out of their ears. The president sends them to defeat him in the only way they know how. “Olson Twin powers, activate!”

Brought to you by Camp Chaos and brought to my attention by Bulletproof Bracelets. Fun!


Bland Ambition: In Defence of Paris

Though I may be accused of heresy, perhaps Paris Hilton isn’t the worse thing to happen to popular culture. I’ve always dismissed the hotel heiress as a vapid lightweight famous just for being famous. This, though, is changing. Sure, she’s still a vapid lightweight but it’s hard to dismiss her growing fame.

The Simple Life has been renewed for a fifth season; she’s had a few film roles (even outside of her infamous sex tape) and won a Razzie for House of Wax; she is signed to Ford Models and several other agencies – tell me you haven’t seen one of those ubiquitous Guess ads; she’s written, um, co-written, uh, well she has two books where she is credited with authorship; you can buy jewelry from the Paris Hilton Collection and she has designed purses and watches with more items to come; she has her own perfume as well as a men’s cologne; there is even a line of nightclubs. She is a never-ending brand.

Today her full-length album, Paris, was released on her label Heiress Records. As with everything Hilton, there is an appropriate amount of bile being thrown at it. Still her first single, “Stars Are Blind,” has already climbed to the top of the Billboard dance music chart. I wouldn’t listen to it, but I don’t listen to dance music to begin with. Check it out for yourself on her personal website or watch the video on her You Tube site (of course).

The point, and I do have one, is somebody likes her. A lot of somebodies it appears or Paris wouldn’t continue getting all of these gigs. Having rich parents will get you in the door, hell it will even buy you the building, but at some point she would hear the word no if she wasn’t moving units. Paris has two younger brothers and I haven’t heard word one about them and they’ve had access to the same Scrooge McDuck-esque money vault.

Sure Paris got her start as a rich, over-privileged socialite, but there are many in Hollywood famous for doing a whole lot less.

Blogger Killed My Dog

Ok, maybe not my dog, but they have done in my comments. I switched over to Blogger Beta the other night and, in the tradition of beta products, it is buggy. Once I moved over the comments went down and I haven't been able to figure out how to repair them as of yet. Any suggestions on template tweaks or how to get Blogger customer service to respond will be much appreaciated.

Update: Commenting has returned, no thanks to Blogger but to the wonderful help of MC of Culture kills... He is not only a clever writer but a wonderful person whom I have never met who took the time to help me figure out how to modify my template to get it working again after the beta "improvements." Please help me thank him by clicking madly on his site. I will attempt to add the previous comments that were mailed to me before the system gave up completely.

If I Knew You Were Coming I’d Have Blogged a Cake

Happy Birthday Popped Culture! My blog turned two yesterday and it has turned into such a precocious little tyke.

As of yet I’ve have no book deals, I've made no TV appearances and I’m not topping any Technorati lists but I’m having fun picking apart the pop culture that surrounds me. My goal is to amuse myself and I’ve done that, so mission accomplished.

I’ve also come across some great blog (see the blogroll on the right) and have some great regular readers, some who blog and some who don’t, and even done some guest blogging work. There really is a community out there and I thank them all from dropping by.

The best advice I ever read about blogging is don’t apologize for not writing or posting, just get on with it… so enough with my self-indulgence. The best present I received are this weekend's box office results for Snakes on a Plane. It slithered to the top, but with results as low as a, um, snake’s belly. Despite being the most-hyped (at least on the web) movie of the year, the fanatics were only able to scare up $15.2 million.

Could it be that it was all just a hoax and my wish actually came true? “My hope is that this is all just a colossal joke on the movie studio – a huge prank to see what hoops web geeks can get focus group obsessed filmmakers and youth targeting marketing departments to jump through. With any luck, the theatres will all be empty on the opening weekend and all the “fans” will be at home laughing. Now that would be cool” Happy birthday indeed.

In Defence of Truthiness

Stephen Colbert is turning into a real web shit disturber. A couple of weeks ago he took on Wikipedia, deciding that the online encyclopedia could be edited to state whatever truthiness he desired: "What we're doing is bringing democracy to knowledge. It's time we use the power of our numbers for a real Internet revolution. We're going to stampede across the Web like that giant horde of elephants in Africa. Together we can create a reality we can all agree on — the reality we just agreed on."

Which he and his followers promptly did, changing entries on elephants, George Washington and his own entry.

Now he is challenging the supremacy of Chuck Norris. Fans of the round-house-kicking action star had stumbled across an online vote to name a Hungarian bridge over the Danube and had managed to get their god into the running for the honour. The Colbert Nation could not abide by this and Colbert figured he could get the bridge named after him instead. (Go here if that vote page doesn't load, which is often.)

He hasn’t managed that, but he has racked up hundreds of thousands of votes in just a few days and surpassing the previously invincible star. Chuck may never sleep, but it seems his fans do.

If I Had a Million Web Fans

It's interesting to see how the Barenaked Ladies are embracing all the hot web trends at once. If you go to their MySpace page you can download a version of “Wind It Up” from their upcoming album Barenaked Ladies Are Me, where they are asking aspiring air guitarists to film their most inspired air licks to accompany the song. Once their fingers have stopped bleeding they can upload it to YouTube where the band will pick some of the performances for the song's video. It’s a cool idea.

They are also allowing fans to remix another song, “Easy,” and are providing all the tracks for those with dreams of producing or DJing. They will then pick the best versions and release an EP of the results. There are plans to release the whole album on USB flash memory stick. I’m quite impressed. I expect other bands are embracing the web as wholeheartedly, but this is the first I’ve heard of it.

The band has always embraced a DIY process, making a best seller out of a self-made cassette of their music in the early ‘90s. Nice to see that pioneering spirit remains after all these years.

Sing, Sing A Song…

It’s been a bad year for music. Well, for me at least. I was looking at my iTunes and I only have half a dozen albums recorded in 2006 and we are already halfway through August. This is appalling.

The last two albums I got were The Raconteurs' Broken Boy Soldiers and Johnny Cash’s American V: A Hundred Highways, with its heartbreaking version of “If You Could Read My Mind.” Both great albums, but I’m hardly overflowing the iPod.

There is one little ray of sunshine in all this – my friend Rob let me know about a new Sloan album coming out in September, so at least I’ll have seven albums by the end of the year. You can get a taste of the 30-track (!!) opus with the first single “Who Taught You to Live Like That” over on their MySpace page, which makes me very happy. Hey, who knew there was good stuff on MySpace pages?

Anyway, I can’t let this situation continue so I’m appealing to all my readers to tell me the best music they’ve heard this year, or at least summer. Albums would be best as I’ve never been one for singles, but I’ll take on all comers. So help me out everyone, don’t let this musical atrophication continue. I’ll be listening to Raffi and his ilk soon enough as it is.

P.S. - I'm doing a spot of guest editing over at Scandal Sheet this week. It's fun to be mean and gossipy.

Pop Will Eat Itself

I remember the first debate I had over sampling. We were driving into the city in the back of a beat-up, covered pickup truck we had cleverly dubbed “The Urban Assault Vehicle,” drinking half Coke-half Southern Comfort in large McDonald’s cups, while yelling along to the Beastie Boys Licensed to Ill.

My friend, a classic rock purist who only listened to bands who were either broken up or dead, thought the boys were talentless hacks for use of Led Zeppelin riffs. I think I responed: "Are not!" Being small town boys this was our first introduction to sampling – we had no idea of what was to come. I haven’t been a huge hip-hop fan but I’ve always been intrigued with how different pieces of music can be combined, adding up to more than the sum of their parts.

Rap was hardly the first style to mix genres together – what is The Simpsons if not a sampling of the best of movie and television pop culture – but I think it laid down the ethos that have made mashups legitimate. These days they are everywhere and not just in music. Digital files have put all of our recent pop history into the hands of ingenious artists – and I do think it is art – who are making hilarious tributes to the movies, music and TV they grew up with.

As a Canadian I often feel that I’m obliged to bow down before the Group of Seven and give praise to the capital A, Art, and while it is lovely and all, I’d far rather go and see Toronto artist Les Paterson’s recreation of all of Marge Simpson’s paintings. And are the 30-Second Bunnies Theatre movie parodies any less clever than any other animated short? Speaking of which, check out Raiders of the Lost Ark (In 30 Seconds and Re-enacted by Bunnies). How about some kids bubblegum cards for the ultra-violent Clockwork Orange? Collect all the Droogs!

Pop culture is a term that always seems to be used disparagingly and with a sneer, as if everything created under the term is an ephemeral piece of trash not worth being remembered or lauded. I, of course, disagree. This is all part of our cultural heritage and that’s why I embrace this re-imagining of pop icons. I came across one of the best examples of this the other day on Bubblegumfink’s site in the form of the Vader Sessions which takes audio clips of James Earl Jones films and lays them over scenes from Star Wars, making the film seem that it was not only shot in the ‘70s, but took place then too. “Torn by good & evil and an incestuous love affair, a lonely and depraved Darth Vader has a nervous breakdown.” The non sequiturs are brilliant!

Liquids on a Plane

I’m fascinated with the speed pop culture absorbs daily events. Much as gossip stories rise and fall in a matter of days (see below), parodies are now appearing within hours of an event.

Look at today’s arrest of 24 suspects accused of planning the bombing of up to 10 airliners using liquid explosives (something that I never thought I would be writing about here). With travelers now restricted from carrying anything liquid, the Snakes On a Plane, um, takeoff was almost inevitable. Who the fuck brought this motherfucking beverage on this motherfucking plane indeed. Looks funnier than the ads for SoaP that I’ve seen so far.

Terrorism threats didn’t stop there though. Paramount Pictures considered pulling some ads for Oliver Stone’s film World Trade Center, concerned about people’s feelings and state of mind during an elevated terror alert. Just kidding, they were only concerned about how the thwarted attack would affect box office receipts. Ultimately the execs decided to keep the Nic Cage ads rolling. "The events of yesterday and today make this story even more poignant," Don Harris, executive vice-president of distribution at Paramount, said Thursday. "But I don't know whether it helps or hurts."

The show must go on, I suppose.

The Last Days of Gossip

Those of you who believe that dolphins are a kinder, more gentle species than humans and not just the second most intelligent beings on the planet (after mice) are in for a shock. They gossip.

Yes, much like celebrity blogs and tabloids, dolphins appear to enjoy talking about other dolphins behind their backs, according to Scottish research. “We know this because we know their names. Each bottlenose individual identifies itself by a unique pattern of whistles and clicks along the lines of woo-woo-wee-wee, or even woo-wee-woo-woo-wee-woo. What was not known until the Scottish research, however, is that a pair of dolphins use the name of a third dolphin when that third dolphin isn't present. In other words, dolphins gossip.”

Take that those of you who look down your nose at people who enjoy reading about the trails and tribulations of celebs. All higher beings enjoy a little schadenfreude.

So is it ingrained? Are people going to gossip no matter what? Bruno Maddox suggests in the latest Discover magazine (even they discuss gossip!) that if anything the web is making gossip even faster, shortening its shelf life, leading to a world without secrets. I’ve seen it happen already. I had two guest bloggers last week. On Monday one wrote about the travails about the King of Malibu and by Thursday another was crying enough with Mad Mel. How’s that for turnaround?

When we all know everything, will there still be a reason to talk about others? Of course we will. When the little kid yelled that the emperor had no clothes, he was just participating in a treasured tradition – mocking our social betters. And that never gets tired.

How Can I Miss You If You Won't Go Away?

Did ya miss me? How could you with such great guest bloggers filling in for me?

Many thanks to webgrrl for her take on the new fall TV season: I too think Studio 60 will be a hit and the best of the two SNL shows coming out. With Aaron Sorkin behind it, I think they could have a winner. I’d say it was odd that there are two similar shows coming out the same year, but Hollywood has always been skilled at beating a horse long before it’s dead. I don’t have as high hopes for Tina Fey’s 30 Rock – it has the feel of something rushed together once Lorne Michaels got wind of Studio 60.

As for a new show from J.J. Abrams, it sounds a lot like Spike Lee’s Inside Man, but as long as he doesn’t end up abandoning Lost I’m willing to give it a shot.

And thanks to James for stepping out of the world of finance to tell everyone that enough is enough about Mel Gibson. I couldn’t agree more – we already knew Mel was crazy. Just look back at South Park’s The Passion of the Jew. Amusingly, he’s now blogged more than his girlfriend over at It’s All About Me. Ok, it’s amusing to me at least.

Fall TV Predictions

It's webgrrl again, one of the guest editors filling in for Popped Culture as he continues to avoid anything resembling work (bitter, party of one?). So, here's the deal. I have a job that, like any job, has its ups and downs. But this time of year, there are some definite ups. Namely, starting in July, networks start sending us screeners of the television pilots they're basing their schedules on in the fall. I've seen some stinkers (hello, Shark!) and some shows with potential (Six Degrees, Brothers & Sisters). But there are three that stood heads and tails above the pack. Here, I'm counting down the new dramas that should (and hopefully will) become this season's biggest hits:

3) Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
From West Wing creators Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlame comes a drama about the behind-the-scenes workings of a SNL-type show. In the pilot, a twitchy network censor demands a sketch be pulled, causing the Lorne Michaels-esque character to fly into a rage and interrupt the opening monologue, thereby getting himself fired. The network's brand new president (Amanda Peet) devises a plan to hire an acclaimed writing duo (Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford) and save the show. But dudes have got mad issues. Chandler just dumped the show's lead comedienne, while Josh is a coke-head. (Ok, so their names aren't really Chandler and Josh. But don't you wish they were?) The pilot wasn't flawless, but it hooked me enough to add it to my PVR's list.

2) Heroes
An excellent, excellent new show with a lame-sounding premise. It's sort of like X-Men on the small screen, with a handful of people waking up one day and realizing they've developed superpowers. Unlike some of the other new ensemble dramas (particularly Brothers & Sisters), the pilot episode didn't leave me confused about everyone's backstory, even though it introduced more characters than most. Plus, it's got Jess from the Gilmore Girls. Lickable!

1) The Nine
J.J. Abrams strikes again! The Alias & Lost creator is back with a new drama about nine people who are taken hostage in a bank robbery. The heist begins and ends in the pilot, though the audience isn't privy to what happened during those two days inside the bank. The show will spend the rest of the season slowly revealing what really went down. It was a great, great setup. After being released, the hostages kept saying things to each other like "That was a heroic thing you did" or "We shared a moment in there," leaving me shouting at the TV “What the hell happened in that bank?!?” And, unlike J.J.'s other shows, which tend to get bogged down by an ever-expanding mythology, The Nine should remain pretty self-contained. (Assuming there wasn't a second group of hostages tied up in the basement or shape-shifting black smoke monster hiding in the vault.)

Happy viewing!

Madness and Mel

Jer is back at his cottage - lucky bastard - and tagged me to step in for a post. Why me - a 'finance guy' with occasional dabblings in sports? No clue. But here goes...
One can't flip through a newspaper, turn on a TV or surf the net without somehow tuning into the Mel Gibson arrest. Apparently 'mad Mel' - who has a history of alcohol abuse and even got pinched for a DUI while filming a movie in Toronto almost 20 years ago - got drunk, hopped into his car, was pulled over by police, and made an ass of himself while being arrested. End of story, right? Wrong.
Like your worst hangover fears come to life, Mel woke up the next day - presumably after being released from the drunk tank - to discover news of the arrest had leaked out over the wires, making his bad day so much worse. Word then started to leak about his anti-Semitic remarks - as well as degrading comments he made to a female arresting officer. Could it get any worse? Yes.
The media was over this like a fat kid on chocolate. This was their oasis in the desert. What they'd been waiting for all summer.. "Mel is through," many rejoiced. Others simply said his career was merely on life-support.
Maybe so - but who cares? I've been shaking my head since the story broke stunned at the vitriol - the unadulterated passion - with which people have been attacking the guy. I'm not about to defend what he said - how could one defend the indefensible anyway? But the glee with which bloggers - Perez Hilton comes to mind - have been sharpening their knives is frightening.
Wanting to take the high road - I thought maybe they focused on the anti-Semitic remarks as a means of somehow digesting what was happening in the Middle East. Understandable. But somehow I think this misses the mark. The online media also attacks phenomenon like 'Starzilla', 'TomKat' and Britney with similar zeal.
Mel might be guilty of hatred. But couldn't the same be said of others?
I for one am tuning out.