Osmosis Jones dodges a bullet-time list.

Inspired, if that’s the word, by the trailers for the new Angelina Jolie film Wanted, Christopher Campbell at SpoutBlog has compiled a list of “10 Awful Matrix ‘Bullet Time’ Spoofs”, and it covers the bases pretty well — though a few of his specimens, such as Wing Commander (released March 12, 1999) and the Gap’s ‘Khaki Swing’ commercial (debuted April 1998), actually pre-date The Matrix (released March 31, 1999) by a fair bit.

In fact, the people who created this special effect were expressing concern about “the spectre of overexposure” as early as this article from the June 26, 1998 issue of Entertainment Weekly. Little did they know that a movie was about to come out which would hijack the effect and stamp a catchphrase on it forever.

At any rate, I just had to say I am glad that Campbell’s list does not include Osmosis Jones (2001), which is not only one of my favorite cartoons of the past decade, but also — since it stars Laurence Fishburne as the voice of the villainous virus Thrax — features the only Matrix spoof that stars a member of the Matrix trilogy itself. Surely it deserves points for that, at least.

Canadian box-office stats — June 22

Here are the figures for the past weekend, arranged from those that owe the highest percentage of their take to the Canadian box office to those that owe the lowest.

Sex and the City — CDN $13,890,000 — N.AM $132,385,000 — 10.5%
The Love Guru CDN $1,400,000 — N.AM $14,000,000 — 10.0%

You Don’t Mess with the Zohan — CDN $7,210,000 — N.AM $84,055,000 — 8.6%
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian — CDN $11,570,000 — N.AM $135,467,000 — 8.5%
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull — CDN $24,430,000 — N.AM $290,835,000 — 8.4%
Iron Man — CDN $25,280,000 — N.AM $304,788,000 — 8.3%
The Happening — CDN $3,540,000 — N.AM $50,267,000 — 7.0%
Kung Fu Panda — CDN $10,610,000 — N.AM $155,596,000 — 6.8%
The Incredible Hulk — CDN $6,440,000 — N.AM $96,476,000 — 6.7%
Get Smart — CDN $2,420,000 — N.AM $39,155,000 — 6.2%

A couple of discrepancies: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian was #10 on the Canadian chart (it was #11 in North America as a whole), while The Strangers was #10 on the North American chart (it was #11 in Canada).

Baby booms and the death of kiddie films.

Demographics, as Mark Steyn likes to say, are everything — or very nearly everything, at any rate. Nine years ago, I wrote an article on the teensploitation craze for Books & Culture that began by looking even further back to a prediction that appeared to have come true at the time that I was writing that article:

There was a time, not too long ago, when conservative pundits liked to argue that family-friendly movies were, from the point of view of the major Hollywood studios, a safer financial bet. Restricted movies played to narrower, restricted audiences, while G-rated movies were free to play to as wide an audience as the market could al low. A number of hugely successful films in the early 1990s—such as Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin—seemed to prove their point.

But there were voices of caution, too. In 1992, Universal Studios chairman Tom Pollock told Premiere magazine that the movie industry was reaping the benefits of a “baby boomlet,” a natural result of the fact that many baby boomers now had children of their own. Pollock noted further that these children wouldn’t stay young forever: “They’re about to come into their teens, so we’re going to be having a whole raft of coming-of-age movies again. Everybody’s going to lose their virginity again.”

That raft is upon us now. Teen ensemble films are fairly cheap to make, and studios can usually count on at least getting their money back; in some cases, they can reap substantial profits. Clueless and William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet were decent-sized hits, but they didn’t prepare Hollywood for the success of Scream, a postmodern high-school slasher flick that opened three years ago and, to everyone’s surprise, quietly amassed a domestic box-office gross of just over $100 million. . . .

I was reminded of that article tonight while reading this paragraph from Mark Harris’s recent article on so-called “niche” audiences:

Here’s a genuinely surprising piece of news about the summer of 2008: In a season expressly designed to appeal to the hordes of kids who are out of school, two of the kiddiest movies so far, Speed Racer and Prince Caspian, have fizzled. And next summer, and for several summers to come, there’ll be fewer kids going to the movies, because there’ll be fewer kids, period. Apparently (this is the U.S. Census talking), we had a mini-baby boom between about 1981 and 1995. And then came a dip — a substantial dip — in the kid population. In other words, that mammoth group of youngsters that has reliably fueled movie grosses for almost 15 years is now looking less kidlike: They’re between 13 and 27. And getting older. And looking for movies that appeal to them. And they’re really not going to like being called a niche.

As Mark Steyn also likes to say, stability is an illusion and there is no such thing as the status quo; things are always moving in some direction or other. Could be interesting times ahead.

(Hat tip to Joe Leydon for the Mark Harris “money quote”.)

WALL*E continues to get mixed buzz

A lot of videos for WALL*E — and for Presto, the short film that plays before it — have been popping up online in the last few days, but I’ve been avoiding them, since the movie opens six days from now and I want to watch it relatively fresh.

However, I cannot help but note that, while everyone seems to love the character WALL*E, early reaction to the film WALL*E has been a little more … mixed.

Oh, sure, Harry Knowles has been his usual orgasmic self, declaring the film not only the best thing that Pixar has ever done but the best thing that Disney has ever done, etc., etc. But others have been a bit more, shall we say, reserved.

Dirty Harry, formerly of Libertas, gives the film 2.5 stars out of 4, and he takes exception to a dig the film takes at President Bush, as is his wont — but he has issues with the story, too:

The first forty-minutes are magical. The introduction to Wall-E and slow reveals of his routine and world are mesmerizing and almost completely without dialogue. Eve’s arrival, their courtship, and those first moments in outer space are equally wondrous. It’s only when we get inside of the ship and meet the human beings that things become routine in that frantic kind of way that hopes to cover for a lack of any real story.

The human characters (and robot supporting characters) are terribly underdeveloped. Much of the latter part of the second-act is spent with the ship’s captain, voiced by Jeff Garlin, but he’s flat, only there to move the plot along. As the plot turns towards the fate of the human characters, Wall-E and Eve are left to chase the Maguffin with a cast of “whacky” robots. Eventually this results in third-act numbness and you just bide your time until it’s over.

Meanwhile, my CT Movies editor Mark Moring included a brief note about the film in his newsletter yesterday:

On another note, the other day I saw one of the films I was most looking forward to all year—Wall*E, the latest from the creative geniuses at Pixar. I’ll say this much: Pixar hasn’t skipped a beat, and it’s a very good movie from writer/director Andrew Stanton—though not as good, I would say, as his last film, Finding Nemo.

Finally, another colleague of mine who was on the same junket as Dirty Harry reports that there was “no uniform opinion emerging from the press corps” and he doubts the film will get the kind of love from critics that Ratatouille got. He also writes:

I’m pretty sure, though, that I’ve never before heard journalists talk about being concerned about reader backlash for writing a less-than-glowing review. Has Pixar become sacred?

I guess we’ll find out when the film opens next week, and then when we see what kind of legs it has in the weeks that follow.

For what it’s worth, my colleague also finds it “offensive” that the film has been given such a massive merchandising campaign; the junket even had a “Merchandising Suite” where journalists had to listen to a marketing pitch before they could pick up their swag. This movie is, remember, set in the future and based on the idea that rampant consumerism has destroyed the planet.

Defiance — heroes? murderers? both?

Remember that scene in Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up (2007) where Seth Rogen somewhat counter-intuitively sings the praises of Steven Spielberg’s Munich (2005) because it depicts tough Jewish protagonists who kill other people instead of being killed themselves? I say “counter-intuitively” because, of course, Spielberg’s film wasn’t exactly celebrating all the killing and it was, indeed, wracked with angst and guilt over the propriety of it all.

Last month, that scene, plus the then-impending release of Adam Sandler’s You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, prompted The Screengrab to post a list of ‘The Top 12 Tough Jews in Cinema‘, and some people have been looking forward to the release of Edward Zwick’s Defiance later this year because it will give us more of the same, in the form of a Jewish resistance leader who fights back against the Nazis during World War II and is played in the film by Daniel Craig.

As it happens, Craig played one of the more cold-blooded Israeli killers in Munich — and to make things even more complicated, some critics noted that his character, who is blond-haired and blue-eyed, exudes a Nazi-like racism when he says things like, “The only blood I care about is Jewish blood” — and now, reports Variety, people are beginning to protest that the character he plays in Defiance had something of a dark side too:

Protests are mounting in Poland against Daniel Craig starrer “Defiance,” directed by Edward Zwick, which locals say wrongly portrays three real-life brothers living in the Nazi-occupied country as wartime heroes.

The movie tells the story of the Jewish Bielski brothers who escape into the Belarusian forest where they join Russian resistance fighters and build a village to protect themselves, eventually saving the lives of more than 1,200 Jews.

Craig plays the oldest brother and leader of the forest rebels, Tewje Bielski.

But Poles say that the Bielskis were murderers and have started a campaign to tell the truth about the supposed “heroes.” . . .

Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance, which has been probing the subject since 2001, has collected documentation confirming that the forest resistance launched brutal attacks on neighboring Polish villages during World War II and joined Russian partisans in other raids.

It includes a massacre of 128 people in the village of Naliboki in the Nowogrodzkie region of Belarus, then northeast Poland.

Polish historian Jerzy Robert Nowak said: “We Poles are furious. It is a scandal that anyone could think of making a film casting the murderers who massacred Polish villagers as heroes. They were not heroes, they were murderers and bandits.” . . .

I know absolutely nothing about the history behind this story, except for what Wikipedia tells me of course, so I cannot comment on the veracity of these charges. By the same token, I doubt the protestors have actually seen the film yet — I don’t believe it comes out anywhere until December — so it may be a bit too early to complain that it does or doesn’t address this aspect of the story. At any rate, I wouldn’t write it off as full-blown hagiography just yet.

I do find myself wondering how older, even biblical examples of Jews fighting back against oppression would be handled in today’s more complicated artistic and political climate. Israeli director Amos Gitai’s Esther (1986; my comments) has already drawn attention to an often-overlooked passage of that book, which talks about how the Jews living in the Persian Empire killed hundreds of people and “did what they pleased to those who hated them.” And I wonder what a filmmaker might do with the Maccabees, some of whom are regarded not only as Jewish heroes but as Christian saints as well — so I use the term “hagiography” above advisedly.

The Love Guru — the review’s up!

My review of The Love Guru is now up at CT Movies.

One point I considered making in the review but didn’t, quite, is that, for all the raunchy humour on display, the film isn’t really as sexual as you might expect. This is not, in other words, The Guru of Sex, which was the original working title of the film starring Jimi Mistry, Heather Graham and Marisa Tomei that was eventually released simply as The Guru (2002). Instead of perpetuating the stereotype of the sensual South Asian, the “love guru” of Mike Myers’ film really does seem to be concerned with getting people to love themselves and each other, and not just to have sex with each other.

Indeed, the film’s obsession with penis jokes and the like is, in a strange way, almost pre-sexual. This becomes especially obvious if you compare and contrast this film with Adam Sandler’s You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, a film that I mention in my review of The Love Guru but for other reasons.

Both films share an obsession with male genitalia that tests the limits of what is acceptable in a PG-13 film — but for Sandler, it’s all about having sex with the ladies, whereas for Myers and his character, Guru Pitka, it’s all about teasing the guys for being “ball-gazers” and holding up penis-shaped food items and other gags that a prepubescent boy would still find naughty and funny even if he didn’t have a clue what sex was, only that adults find such topics embarrassing. Even the rooster jokes surrounding Jacques “Le Coq” Grande, the well-endowed Justin Timberlake character who has stolen a rival hockey player’s wife away, are played more for the naughty play on words than for any particularly sexual angle.

These may be differences that make no difference, especially to the family-minded readership of CT Movies. And that’s fine, I don’t mean to imply that one kind of dirty joke is necessarily better or worse than another.

But consider this: This may be the first movie Jessica Alba has made in a while in which she is not treated as a piece of eye candy who disrobes for the amusement and/or titillation of the male viewer — something that she has done in comedies like Good Luck Chuck (2007), dramas like Awake (2007), family-oriented (!) comic-book movies like Fantastic Four (2005-2007), and so on, and so on.

Turning to other matters: You can’t cover every angle in a review, but there is a particular line of critique in David Germain‘s review that is spot-on, and which I wish had occurred to me, too, in the few hours that I had to work on this review:

In “The Love Guru,” Mike Myers must come to love himself before he can love others. From the credits of this scattershot comedy sketch stretched and strained to movie length, Myers clearly loved himself to the point of narcissism going in.

Ouch. But true. Germain goes on to cite, among other things, the fact that Myers is listed four times in the acting credits — three times for playing the same character at different ages, and once for playing himself in a two-second cameo. I had noticed the odd detail of Myers being credited three times for the same character, but I hadn’t thought to tie it into the bigger question of narcissism — or, indeed, to tie the guru’s “you must love yourself” message to the bigger question of narcissism, especially the sort of narcissism that is all too common in the Hollywood celebrity culture that Guru Pitka thrives in.

Meanwhile, just to stay on top of some of the coverage that this film has had in the last few weeks: The Hollywood Reporter noted last month that Hindu groups were hoping to get this film banned in India because it “appears to be lampooning Hinduism”, but a couple weeks later, the Associated Press noted that Deepak Chopra, who has a cameo in the film, defended both the film and Mike Myers, saying that the latter has “the most profound understanding of Eastern wisdom, traditions and spirituality.” Whoa, Deepak, let’s not over-reach here. I mean, okay, maybe he does, but is there any evidence of that in the film?

Finally, the Globe and Mail, a newspaper based in Myers’ beloved Toronto, has a story on the influence of Bollywood movies, transmitted via late-night broadcasts on Toronto TV stations, on Myers’ sense of humour, as well as another story on how even some Canadian Hindus are offended by certain aspects of the film.