You Can’t Burn a Bridge if They’ve Already Taken it Up

Rinse the blood off my aluminum… or, the year in DVDs.

Now, obviously this list is going to be somewhat incomplete, as I wasn’t on the hardcore DVD beat for the full calendar year. And come to think of it, I suppose I should address the whole Starweek thing — it’s certainly the biggest DVD story of the year, as far as I’m concerned.

First things first: I did not leave. I was dumped.

Second things second: I was dumped because some idiot at the Toronto Star believes the paper should do everything the Globe and Mail does, and when the Globe shrank its Broadcast Week magazine in the spring, reducing the page count — and cutting costs! — the Star quickly followed suit.

That meant cutting the book in half, though not reducing the size of the damnable thing, with which readers have been justly annoyed for five years now. Instead, the page count was reduced, just like Broadcast Week’s, and all the columns were being halved so that nothing substantial would change.

Since the column would now be so much shorter, it’d just make so much more financial sense to “bring it inside” — to let a staffer write it, instead of paying me as a freelancer — and that would be that. Thanks for your service, you’ve got two columns left, you’re done at the end of May.

I wanted to be pragmatic about it. The Star’s made stupid decisions before, and reversed them; after all, hadn’t Starweek dropped my column in 2001, when it jumped to the bigger format, only to resurrect it after five weeks? (Of course, things were different then; the paper was flooded with e-mails and faxes, and I had an editor who fought like the devil to keep me.)

And after the first few weeks of the “inside” column, I was sure they’d come back to me; it was just sad, it was. But, no. I forgot the most important thing about newspaper work: What’s on the page doesn’t matter, so long as the page is filled. And the back page of Starweek is indeed filled … though it seems inevitable that the paper will scrap the whole book, now that the Globe has folded the Broadcast Week listings into its Friday entertainment section.

Anyhow. Seven months after my unceremonious dismissal — which, if you’re looking for irony, was delivered by phone while I was bedridden with food poisoning, leading me to wonder whether I’d hallucinated the whole thing — I’m still without a reg’lar DVD gig. Which does pain me somewhat, because I do think I’m rather good at it.

I hope this doesn’t sound like whining. I still have my Metro gig, and I’m still writing reviews for UR and Canadian Smart Living, and it’s not like being dumped by the Star was the worst thing that happened this year. But I built a reputation and a readership over my fifteen years in those Starweek’s pages, and it does frustrate me to no longer have that outlet.

So. Anybody hiring?

Best DVDs of 2006, after the jump … because you deserve ’em.

Best DVD of 2006

Yarr, this be a fine packageFor several years now, this award has gone to a Pixar title, because you just couldn’t beat the combination of gorgeous direct-digital transfer and extensive supplements. But this year, somebody dropped the ball with “Cars” — it’s a single-disc release with just a smattering of behind-the-scenes material, suggesting (along with the movie’s script) that the only one who really, truly cared about this project was John Lasseter.

But pivot just slightly down the aisle, because this year’s winner is still a Disney release: “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”, a two-disc edition packed with enough obsessively recorded behind-the-scenes stuff to fill the hold of the Black Pearl. Them what didn’t actually enjoy the movie will complain that the extras are much ado about nothing, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself endlessly absorbed. And the movie looks gorgeous.


Warner’s “Superman Returns” supported Bryan Singer’s underrated epic with a compelling two-and-a-half-hour documentary, and plenty of other stuff. How compelling was it? Well, when Warner screened the first half-hour at a DVD launch event, I spent the rest of the affair twitching to get home and watch the rest.

New Line Home Entertainment — distributed in Canada by Alliance — did a fine job with David Cronenberg’s “A History of Violence”, supporting one of the best films of 2005 with a moody documentary and Cronenberg’s customarily considered audio commentary.

Also, DreamWorks gets points for focusing its “Over the Hedge” extras on Hammy the squirrel, the breakout star of the year … though I really was hoping for more footage of Nick Nolte in the recording booth, obsessively reshaping his performance as a hungover bear.

And full marks to Paramount for packaging “An Inconvenient Truth” in post-consumer material, replacing the plastic keepcase with a cardboard slipcase, and using a biodegradable plastic pouch instead of shrink-wrap. The disc itself had to have been produced from scratch, but it’s still a laudable move.

Reissue of the Year

Reevaluated as an actor? That'll be the dayThis was a tough one: Criterion’s three-disc remastering of “Seven Samurai”, or Warner’s two-disc deluxe edition of “The Searchers”? Both films were restored with equal care by their respective label, and come fully loaded with magnificent extras; both films are seminal genre masterworks which deflate heroic mythologies even as they expand upon them. I guess one could argue that Kurosawa’s samurai couldn’t have existed without John Ford’s cowboys, but “The Searchers” is at least as dependent on those earlier films as “Seven Samurai”.

Mifuuuune! (Ask the Dogma people.)So, let’s call it a tie … though I suppose “The Searchers” gets a small edge by virtue of being available on all three current DVD formats, while “Seven Samurai” is only available as a standard DVD. But that standard DVD looks frickin’ glorious.


MGM’s new special editions of “A Fish Called Wanda” and “Four Weddings and a Funeral”, with their much-needed anamorphic remasters, commentary tracks and featurettes, would have more impressive if they’d been released a year ago, when the same content was made available in the UK.

And although Sony and Disney rolled out gorgeous new editions of half the Jerry Bruckheimer catalogue — “Crimson Tide”, “Con Air”, “Enemy of the State”, “Gone in Sixty Seconds”, “Black Hawk Down” — they did so under that silly “expanded edition” banner, which means that the theatrical versions of those films, most of which are the director’s intended cuts, are still only available in less-than-desirable 4:3 widescreen editions. This whole extended-edition thing is kind of annoying, frankly … especially when the Blu-ray editions of the same films offer high-definition masters of the theatrical cuts. Maybe it’s another inept attempt to steer consumers to the new format?

Least Necessary DVDs of the Year

One franchise to rule them allEntertainment Weekly went after Peter Jackson’s expanded “King Kong”, but I thought that was a pretty nice package, all things considered; still, Jackson has to shoulder some of the blame for New Line’s latest regurgitation of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy — individual two-disc sets of each film, authored to include both the theatrical cuts and Jackson’s expanded editions. If you’d already bought the two previous releases of the trilogy (and surely you did), you’d have no reason to buy these … which is why New Line loaded them up with feature-length montages of never-before-seen camcorder footage! That’s just greedy.


Sony gets this one for the double-bill of “Underworld: Evolution” and “The DaVinci Code” — lavishly produced special editions of utterly negligible films. Yeah, they made money. So does Taco Bell. You really want to celebrate that?

129 thoughts on “You Can’t Burn a Bridge if They’ve Already Taken it Up”

  1. Yeah, I still think dropping your column was horrible… and the changes to Star Week are just disappointing. It’s just another case of cost-cutting measures gone mad.

  2. I’ve said it before in these pages – I was VERY disappointed that the Star dropped your column. They made a mistake and I made a point of emailing them to tell them so.

    Your replacement is terrible and the magazine has gone steadily downhill. It used to be the best tv guide in Toronto.

    Between them letting you go and the Sun letting go of Bill Brioux, it hasn’t been a good year for tv/film writing in Toronto.

  3. This probably isn’t an original idea, but have you considered compiling your DVD reviews into book form? While I always enjoyed the main part of your column with Starweek (curses upon them), I also loved your ability to wittily praise or pan the other releases of the week with only one or two sentences. If reviews of the past 3 or 4 years’ movies were combined with longer digressions on other topics – zombie movies, Criterion collection, anything from art house movies to popcorn-munching mind candy – I know I’d buy it. Between your loyal readerships from Starweek (really, curses upon them), Metro, Zapit, this blog, and those who remember you as the video dude from Bob MacAdorey’s show, hopefully this would be a viable prospect for a publisher. You wouldn’t mind spending the next year or so chained to your desk writing even more than you do now for the sake of fans who value your opinion, would you?

  4. Marlene Arpe is actually a pretty hilarious writer and is the highlight of any of the Star’s entertaintment staff, but her Starweek column definitely blows. I barely remember to read it. Not like the old days when I would go looking for your column as soon as the paper arrived. I have an Uncle who lives in a small town who would go out of his way to get a copy of the Star on Saturdays, just so he would know what to rent for the following week.
    Although, until your column went away, I never felt the need to visit your site. Now I can get Wilner content everyday…

  5. I 100% agree Star Week made a fatal mistake by letting you go. I used to look forward to receiving the Star Week on the week ends. Now I no longer care!

  6. The changes to Starweek are appalling. I e-mailed them last week, and again today, to complain. I noticed the columnists being dropped a few weeks ago, and wondered about it, but certainly wasn’t expecting this inconvenient, incomplete and absolutely USELESS “improved” format!

    Your story of your dismissal is a sad case in point – I wonder if the other, more recent dismissals were handled any better. Good luck to you – always enjoyed your columns.

    And let’s hope The Star does a 180 on this ridiculous decision – the Globe & Mail’s pitiful “Broadcast Week” is nothing to emulate.

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