Notes from the Back Row 

What do I know?

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Remember last week when I made fun of Columbia Pictures for not letting any critics watch the new Nic Cage comic book adaptation Ghost Rider before its release date? Well they raked in a cool $44 million over the weekend, almost half of the reported $120 million it cost to make the so-bad-it’s-kinda-good campy motorbike flick (which co-stars Peter Fonda) so I guess Columbia gets the last laugh.

In related news, Ghost Rider star Nic Cage is in talks with Marvel Comics to produce a She-Hulk movie. Cage is adamant that his Ghost Rider co-star Eva Mendes play the role and he’s been quoted as saying something like, “Basically it’d be her, in a bikini, kicking ass and throwing cars.” Now that is what I’m talking about.

What I’m not talking about, not so much anyhow, are the Oscars. Let’s just say Scorcese should win, The Departed should win, it’d be nice to see Eddie Murphy take one (he won’t get too many more chances), Children of Men deserves the nod for cinematography (the long-take, handheld-camera action scenes in that film were truly spectacular) and I really don’t think Abigail Breslin should win for her role as the kid in Little Miss Sunshine . Kids shouldn’t win Oscars for playing the role of “kid” no matter how quirky or cute. Linda Blair in The Exorcist? No problem. Otherwise, forget it. It would be nice to see Canada’s Deepa Mehta take home a foreign-film statue for Water but up against the ever-popular Pan’s Laybrinth I’m not holding my breath.

There’s an Oscar contender re-playing at the Village 8 this week though, The Last King of Scotland starring Forrest Whittaker in what will probably be the Best Actor role. Whittaker plays Ugandan dictator Idi Amin who’s half charm, half ruthless, and incredibly engaging to watch.

Opening at the Village 8 this week is The Astronaut Farmer , a family feel-good flick in the vein of The World’s Fastest Indian (although not quite as good). Still though, this chase-your-dreams story about an ex-almost-astronaut who decides to build his own rocket ship on his Texas ranch is a modern day fairy tale that will speak, at least a bit, to audiences of any age. Starring Billy Bob Thorton as the dreamer father, The Astronaut Farmer gives a good look at some very-supportive family dynamics and themes of not giving up and working hard to be exceptional. Toss in some anti-government messages (you can’t buy rocket fuel without those bastards sticking their noses in) and a media circus and you’ve got a film your kids will like as much as your grandma. Rare.

Not so rare, this week, are great DVDs. The Prestige , last year’s best Magician movie, stars Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as arch-nemesis magicians who will stop at nothing to one-up each other and perform the world’s greatest illusion. Directed by the masterful Chistopher Nolan ( Memento) and also starring Scarlett Johansson (and her heaving, corseted bosom), The Prestige is a slick, superbly acted movie that will keep all your attention on the screen. It’s up for Art Direction and Cinematography Oscars but regardless of the results The Prestige is one of last year’s best films.

Also fresh out on DVD is the Trailer Park Boys movie, starring Julian, Ricky, and Bubbles in their biggest and most hair-brained scheme to date. Sure, it watches like a really long episode but it’s All-Canadian, an instant cult-classic and, providing you didn’t actually grow up on the east coast (in which case it hits far too close to home) it’s hilarious. Happy Oscars, I’ll be watching the Canucks.

AT VILLAGE 8 Feb. 23-March 1: The Number 23; Reno 911: Miami; The Last King of Scotland; Astronaut Farmer; Ghost Rider; Bridge to Terrabithia; Blood Diamond; Pan’s Labyrinth; Music and Lyrics .

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