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Notes from the back row

A doc and a hard place

Paul Walker is so hot right now. He’s ruling it at the box office in Disney’s abandoned sled dog movie Eight Below . His latest DVD, escapist swimsuit wankfest Into the Blue, is flying off the shelves and now he’s starring in the only new movie opening at the Village 8 this week, Running Scared.

Sure, the dogs are the real stars of 8 Below , and only teenage boys (and me) are renting Into the Blue to see the underwater convulsions of Jessica Alba (Playboy’s top celebrity sex star of the year.)

And while Running Scared is more like watching an ultra-violent video game, you have to give Walker credit for at least trying to escape that "oh-yeah-that-guy-from- The Fast and the Furious" typecasting.

In Running Scared Walker plays Joey, a mob henchman who, after a drug buy goes terribly awry and an undercover cop is killed, is given the simple task of disposing of the incriminating weapon. Instead he opts to hide it in his basement where it’s quickly discovered and taken by his young son’s best buddy, Oleg.

After using it to shoot and wound his abusive Russian mob father, little Oleg, who seems capable of only one blank expression, disappears. Paul Walker, looking harder, more volatile and cutting edge according to the Running Scared press releases, must find the boy and the gun before his mob, the Russians and another crooked cop do. Just to keep things ‘edgy’ director Wayne Kramer ( The Cooler) tosses in a hooker, a crack fiend, a pimp, and a handful of pedophiles.

Overpacked with violence, cliched characters and absurd coincidences, Running Scared is gratuitous, disgusting, poorly acted, and utterly over the top with it’s camera work and editing. That’s to say, when your girlfriend drags you to the latest Paul Walker flick, you’re gonna love it. If you’re in Grade 9.

While Paul Walker won’t be winning any Best-Actor Oscars on March 5, it’s a pretty good bet that Phillip Seymore Hoffman will for his stellar role as Truman Capote in, you guessed it, Capote. Just to make sure you get a chance to see this film Village 8 is bringing it back for another week. Check it out.

Speaking of Oscars, it was another big year for documentaries (interesting that as the world goes straight to shit faster and faster we make/watch more and better films documenting it). The front-runner for best-Doc award is Enron:The Smartest Guys in the Room , a capitalism-run-amok-with-greed film, but my favorite documentary of the year, simply because it was so out there, was Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man.

Grizzly Man follows Timothy Treadwell, amateur grizzly expert and wildlife preservationist, through the last five of his thirteen summers of living, often alone, amongst the wild grizzlies of Alaska’s Katmai national park. Using footage Treadwell shot himself, Herzog unravels the mystery of who this man was, what motivated him, and what led to his (and his girlfriend’s) eventual death at the hand (paws?) of one of the bears he was so passionate about protecting.

Treadwell, who would film himself mere metres away from huge, dangerous bears, managed to capture some of the most amazing nature home video ever recorded. Sometimes sincere, Treadwell also comes across as a self-absorbed nut – filming take after take or himself ranting and, screaming at the camera. While many think Treadwell crossed a line that shouldn’t be crossed and ended up doing more harm than good, Grizzly Man is still one of the most compelling, humorous, and mind boggling documentaries out there. It paints complex questions on the relationship between man and nature and I’d be real interested to see what local bear expert Michael Allen thinks about this (hint, hint Mike, my email is up top).

AT VILLAGE 8 Feb. 23-Mar. 2: Curious George, Matador, Capote, Brokeback Mountain, Firewall, Freedomland, Running Scared, Date Movie, Eight Below, Pink Panther

AT RAINBOW THEATRE Feb. 24-Mar. 2: Fun with Dick and Jane