Sunday, October 25, 2009

Black Sheep @ The Box Office: The Saw Is Finally Dull

It may not be too fair to say so but it would seem that the SAW series has finally warn out its welcome. Ordinarily, it isn't Halloween if it isn't SAW but the sixth installment of the consistently successful franchise pulled in less than half of what the fifth film did. The reason I say it may not be fair to send SAW to the grave just yet is because the SAW series has never had a force as monumental as PARANORMAL ACTIVITY to deal with in past years. This phenomenon added over 1100 screens this week and saw its earnings increase another 12% for a first place finish six weeks after its initial release. With Halloween coming next week, there is no question that the film will continue to haunt minds and multiplexes for at least the next little while.

Last week's champ, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, suffered a non-too-surprising 55% drop, suggesting that fans have come and gone already and that it doesn't have the legs to really let loose. Still, it was the top family draw this weekend as audiences showed little interest in the animated big screen adaptation of ASTRO BOY, which landed hard in sixth place. That landing is nothing compared to the nosedive crash of AMELIA. The Hilary Swank Oscar bait missed out on the Top 10 entirely, coming in 11th place, with just over $4 million. Other notable films this week include continued success for the Coen Brothers' A SERIOUS MAN (12th place finish with a 34% increase), Chris Rock's documentary, GOOD HAIR (pulling in over $1 million on 460 screens), the delicate and lovely AN EDUCATION ($13K per screen average, more than any other film in release) and the not to be missed, THE DAMNED UNITED (115% increase on 36 screens). Finally, Lars Von Trier's latest, ANTICHRIST, debuted to an average of $12K per screen on just six screens and will expand next week. Speaking of which ...

NEXT WEEK: Nobody wants to get in the way of the king ... Michael Jackson's THIS IS IT is the only major release next week, hitting 3400 screens on Wednesday for a limited time. I don't know about you but I am very curious to see if this is really it finally.

SOURCE: Box Office Mojo

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Written by Nick Hornby
Directed by Lone Scherfig
Starring Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina and Emma Thompson

Jenny: All that poetry and all those songs for something that doesn’t last long at all.

For a young lady in the 1960’s, options were slim. Girls went to school to learn about Latin and literature but also, and perhaps more importantly, to learn about posture and poise. Educated or not, a lady must be proper first and foremost and able to provide for her man as he sees fit. And if one of these fine girls also happened to show academic promise, then she could push herself as hard as possible to go on to higher learning. Unfortunately, all that would be waiting for her on the other side would be marriage or maybe a teaching job. There is really nothing wrong with either of those options but it does seem an awful lot of work to get there and one wonders why go through all the trouble. The understated beauty of Lone Scherfig’s AN EDUCATION is how it allows for life to do what it will regardless of chosen paths, schooling its characters and subsequently enlightening its audience.

Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is but 16. She is the only girl in her classes who seems to get anything at all and it isn’t long before she starts to see through it all. One day, while she waits for a ride in the rain, a strange yet handsome man of nearly twice her age (Peter Sarsgaard) pulls up alongside her to offer her a lift. He is witty and charming and their chemistry is almost instantly perfect. When she accepts his offer, she essentially goes against the number one rule enforced by all parents – never get in a strange man’s car. Naturally, it feels terribly wrong. Given his age, what could he possibly want from this girl? Still, he is dapper and has a wonderful way about himself. Mulligan is boisterous and beautiful in this breakout performance, one that will certainly get her some well deserved notice. And of course, Sarsgaard is easily likable as her suitor, David. Together, they just click and before long, the initial hesitation is set aside so that their love can be given a shot.

Natural reticence is part of what makes AN EDUCATION such an engaging experience. Jenny is precious. She has great potential and parents (Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour) that, while strict, clearly hold her in the highest regard. And yet still, these educated people allow David to breeze into their home with his dashing good looks and pockets full of money and make them completely ignore his age and his intentions for their daughter. Her father will not allow her to enjoy anything on her own that doesn’t directly enhance her scholastic education but when a handsome man comes knocking, it would seem that marrying his daughter off, especially to someone so well to do, is a lot more affordable than sending her to Oxford. At the same time, Jenny is completely taken with the life of fancy that David offers and begins to see how being taken care of can be a lot easier than taking care of yourself.

Nick Hornby’s elegant screenplay poses a very familiar dilemma to the audience. What is more valuable – a formal and well rounded education in a class room or the kind of learning that only comes when experiencing life outside of the classroom? What makes this simple question so complex in AN EDUCATION is that it constantly forces you to reevaluate where you stand on the subject, subsequently reminding you that nothing is as simple as you think when love is involved. I learned a thing or two myself while I sat back and absorbed this masterful picture. The main lesson? AN EDUCATION, both the film and the arduous right of passage, are both well worth the time.

Monday, October 19, 2009


Watching a kids’ movie when you’re actually a kid is really something. Watching that same movie years later can be pretty risky. You could taint the entire memory by watching it with jaded, adult eyes. Or, if you want to see things more positively, maybe you get to escape your difficult adult life for a couple of hours and feel what it felt like to be a kid again. With WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, just re-released by Warner Home Video as a BD book, the experience offers a little from column A and a little more from column B. I don’t remember the oompa-loompas being quite so judgmental but I had also forgotten something infinitely more important – that anyone can find a golden ticket if they look for it.

The picture has been beautifully restored, allowing Mr. Wonka’s factory, made almost entirely of candy and chocolate, to burst with fruit flavour right off the screen. The budgetary and technological limitations that the production would have endured in 1971 are fairly evident now but the unbridled imagination of director, Mel Stuart, and writer, Roald Dahl, still shine through. As for the preachy lessons each little girl and boy learn along their journey from the little orange men who run Wonka’s factory, whether it be not to be a brat or not to watch too much television, they certainly can be a little jarring. That said, what does one expect from a film that was originally conceived to be a promotional tool to launch the new Wonka chocolate bar from Quaker Oats?

The BD book is naturally stunning. Each page explodes with colour and the content is a great surface read about the production and its players. Special features include a vintage featurette from the period about the film’s art direction as well as a new featurette that allows us to catch up with all the kids and of course, Mr. Wonka himself, the incredible Gene Wilder. The feature commentary track that reunites all the kids from the film is a little awkward but who needs that when all the songs have a sing-along option?

Who can take tomorrow, wrap it in a dream, suck out all the sorrow and collect up all the cream? You guessed it; the candyman can! And thanks to this new BD re-issue, the candyman can for generations to come.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Black Sheep @ The Box Office: Number 1 Is Where they Are

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE was originally slated for release in the spring of 2008. It was delayed until the fall of 2008 and then delayed again for a whole year because Warner Brothers and director, Spike Jonze, could not reach a place where they were both happy with the film. Maurice Sendak's book is considered to be one of the most popular children's books of all time and Warner Bros. was afraid that Jonze's stark interpretation was too real to appeal to kids. Once again, the little guys have been underestimated.

Warner's worries were appeased on Friday when WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE pulled in $12.1 million, a record one-day gross for a live-action picture in October. The film polled an A- grade from filmgoers and the love was spread across the weekend, allowing Jonze's third film to easily surpass its competition and become its own king. The second place was nowhere near the $32.5 million gross WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE pulled in but it was an interesting race regardless. In a tight race, the win went to LAW ABIDING CITIZEN - the one where Gerard Butler takes on the judicial system and Jamie Foxx from inside prison. Just another unbelievable premise that was seen by another unbelievable amount of people. Giving Butler and Foxx a run for their money was the third place, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. Up another 155% this week after adding 600 more screens. That scorching $26K per screen average suggests that come next weekend, this Halloween may not be about SAW at all. The very happy people at Paramount will be bumping the theatre count up to about 1800. The only other debut this week, THE STEPFATHER, was met with about as little interest as I met my real-life stepfather with, pulling in just over $12 million for a fifth place finish.

Below the Top 10, two emerging Oscar contenders continued to perform well in limited runs. Both the Coen Brothers' A SERIOUS MAN and AN EDUCATION saw solid increases as their expansions proceeded. COCO AVANT CHANEL and THE DAMNED UNITED enjoyed solid holds on their audiences but showed no signs that a wide release would amount to anything. And NEW YORK, I LOVE YOU, a collection of short films inspired by the similar project, PARIS JE T'AIME, failed to excite anyone the same way the city itself does, pulling in an average of $3K on approximately 115 screens. New York, we love you but we see you on screen enough as it is, I think.

NEXT WEEK: SAW VI looks to get the early jump on Halloween as it slices its way onto 3000 screens. Opening with a similar theatre count, the big screen adaptation of ASTRO BOY. In case you aren't tired of vampires yet, you can catch John C. Reilly and Selma Hayek in CIRQUE DU FREAK: THE VAMPIRE'S ASSISTANT (2750 screens). And in case you aren't tired of Hilary Swank appearing in Oscar bait yet, you can catch her turn as Amelia Earhart in AMELIA (800 screens).

SOURCE: Box Office Mojo


Written by Spike Jonze and David Eggers
Directed by Spike Jonze
Starring Max Records, Catherine Keener and Mark Ruffalo
Voices by James Gandolfini, Catherine O’Hara, Forest Whitaker, Chris Cooper and Lauren Ambrose

Judith: Happiness isn’t always the best way to become happy.

It’s been a fair amount of time since I was a young boy. Fortunately for me, it has not been so long that I have grown past the age where I can get completely lost in the wonderful world of Spike Jonze’s WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. Jonze must have had to fight his own wild beasts during his lengthy and tumultuous journey to bring the 1963 Maurice Sendak classic picturebook to such exquisite life. Originally due to be released in the spring of 2008, Jonze had to fight the studio to make the film he wanted and believed in when it was being criticized for being too dark a work to be considered a family film. A year and a half later, Jonze has made a film that both parties are happy with and, while it still may be too dark to play to the littler ones, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE is a modern family classic in every possible sense.

In the original Sendak tale, Max (played here by the precocious boy with the power name, Max Records) is sent to bed without supper for being bad. From there, he escapes to another world complete with a monster community that he incorporates himself into quite nicely. When his adventures are over, he returns home to find a plate of food waiting for him by his bed. At under 500 words, it’s pretty sparse but Jonze, alongside AWAY WE GO co-writer and novelist, David Eggers, has transformed WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE into a contemporary exploration of how a child might deal with the changing face of his family and finding a way to fit in it. Max’s Mom (Catherine Keener) still sends him to bed without supper for acting up but his wild outburst now has context and his adventure offers a healing that stretches past the troubled boy to touch the inner child of anyone watching.

The wild things themselves are mostly giant, furry monsters and precisely where Max stumbles upon them is never pinpointed but, once he gets there, he declares himself king and rightfully so. After all, this place is essentially inside his head and even with the wild things running, well, wild in there, he is still aware enough to know that he is in charge of all these extensions of his own personality. Max’s family issues are mirrored in Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini), a monster with his own difficulties keeping his rage in check. Whether the monsters and Max are trying to build a perfect living space or whether they are just pouncing on top of each other in one big giant pile, they are doing things together and the conversations that take place in between are simple musings, not unlike those that Max might have with himself in his mind. Never do Max’s two worlds resolve each other perfectly but nor could one live without the other.

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE is simply unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The screenplay is elegant and uncomplicated; its ferocious beauty is matched only by the magnificence of its aesthetic. With the help of two-time collaborator and handheld guru, Lance Acord, Jonze creates a world that is at times tender and warm while at others, frightening and fragile. Who would ever expect a family film to be so visceral, let alone so disarming? Learning to accept your family, or even life, as it is can be difficult at any age but leaning into it brings security and tames the wildness of the mind. Perhaps we all could stand to learn a lesson from Max and get a little wild when needed instead of always quieting what needs to get out. While WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE may be lost on the truly young, it will not be lost on the young at heart.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Montreal's Festival de Nouveau Cinema is well underway and the good folks at the festival want to give Black Sheep readers the opportunity to see two of the more buzzed about films playing in the next couple of days. Be the first person to contact me at with the name of the film you want to see and your name will be added to the guest list for the screening. The pass is for two.

Here are the film details (synopses provided by the festival):

Trash Humpers @ the Imperial, 15 October 21h30Harmony Korine | U.S.A. | 2009 | 78 min. | English

Three very strange old men (of the dim, coarse grotesque type devoted to frantic idiocy) go about their usual pastimes. What kind of pastimes, you ask? Well, what they like most is dirty stuff. Particularly dumpster fucking. They also like poetry, murder, doing wheelies on bikes, while dragging dolls, obese hookers singing “Silent Night”, and wondering if the world would be a better place if people were headless. OK, so like it or not, could these guys be on to something?

Eccentricities of a Blond Haired Girl @ the Imperial, 16 October 18h00
Manoel de Oliveira | Portugal, France, Spain | 2009 | 63 min. | Portuguese (s.t. English)

Luisa, young and blonde, sits at her window in Lisbon holding an exotic Chinese fan. Across the street, working in his uncle Francesco’s office, Macário watches her and falls under her spell. He immediately makes up his mind to marry her. But between the romantic dream of this innocent young man and the reality, there are miles to go and much to learn, not the least of which is the discovery that one should always be wary of mysterious, young, blonde women. Adapted from a short story by realist writer Eça de Queiroz, the Portuguese Consul-General in Paris in 1888, Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl is a timeless, moral tale told with effortless and arresting simplicity. Director Manoel de Oliveira, now 100 years old, offers his charming and mischievous musings on love elegantly recounted with beguiling twists and turns and just the right touch of fantasy.

Black Sheep would like to thank the Festival de Nouveau Cinema for this great opportunity and should you need any more information about these films or any of the other fantastic films still left to screen, check out the festival website. The Festival de Nouveau Cinema runs until Sunday, October 18.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Black Sheep @ The Box Office: The Sheep Retreats

I am in Montreal, visiting my family and friends for Thanksgiving, the Canadian one. Therefore, there will be no official box office report this week. Just a brief message to ask the filmgoers what is exactly wrong with them? Hollywood throws a bunch of oafish funny men and their pretty wives with whiny, pathetic problems into a tropical paradise so that they can complain about being there and you all run in droves to buy tickets to see COUPLES RETREAT. Bad moviegoers, bad. Meanwhile, last week's champ, ZOMBIELAND, which I hear is kick-ass, held up well, as did fellow Sony holdover, CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS, which I did finally see this weekend and did not stop laughing practically the entire way. Even last week's disappointments, THE INVENTION OF LYING and WHIP IT and FAME have capitalized on decent word of mouth to manage nimimal declines. Michael Moore's CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY couldn't seem to capitalize on anything. If you haven't seen the TOY STORY double feature, do it soon, as it is only in theatres until Thursday and, having seen it yesterday, I can tell you it is a real nostalgic treat and has been restored to greatness. The big story of the week though in the Top 10 is clearly PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. This horror flick reportedly cost $11K to make and this week pulled a per screen average of four times that on just 160 screens and has now pulled in over $8 million. Below the Top 10, Chris Rock's documentary, GOOD HAIR and TIFF success, THE DAMNED UNITED, had solid but not groundbreaking starts. COCO AVANT CHANEL and A SERIOUS MAN pursued their successful expansions. And Oscar hopeful, AN EDUCATION took in an average of $40K per screen, schooling everyone else on how it's done.

NEXT WEEK: Cheap thrillers, THE STEPFATHER and LAW ABIDING CITIZEN open on 2700 screens each but the biggie and the one I cannot wait for is Spike Jonze's WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, getting wild on over 3500 screens.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Source: Box Office Mojo

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Remembering the year 2005

Written by Paul Haggis and Robert Moresco
Directed by Paul Haggis

NOTE: This article has spoilers aplenty and should not be read by anyone who has not seen the movie.

I can still remember the feeling of my stomach dropping when Jack Nicholson announced that the 2005 Best Picture Oscar was being awarded to Paul Haggis’s CRASH, and not the frontrunner, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. I wasn’t the only one either who was floored; you could here the jarred pause in Nicholson’s voice when he announced it. The signs were pointing in that direction throughout the evening. First, CRASH took Best Editing, the only award it won that I genuinely feel it warranted, keeping all those simultaneously told stories in check and well balanced. Then it came along and took Best Original Screenplay. I say took but I really mean robbed considering there were three better screenplays that should have won (Woody Allen’s MATCH POINT, George Clooney and Grant Heslov’s GOODNIGHT AND GOOD LUCK and Josh Olsen's A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE). After those two wins combined with the previous win for Best Ensemble Cast at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, taking it all became a serious possibility. After it happened, the guests at my Oscar party could seriously see I was disappointed, distraught even. I popped Gustavo Santaolalla’s BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN score and began picking up after the mess.

It’s not that I don’t care for CRASH. I was just as mortified when Matt Dillon had his hands up Thandie Newton’s dress and just as gripped when he had to rescue her from her burning vehicle the next day. I was just as devastated when that adorable little girl was shot and just as exalted to witness the man-made miracle that allowed for her to survive. CRASH is not without its merits. Incredibly powerful scenes made all the more poignant by often surprising turns by Dillon, Newton, Terrence Howard and Michael Pena. To call it Best Picture though meant ignoring its condescending and manipulative storytelling techniques in favor of the ignorance it so aggressively draws to the surface. Of course race, prejudice and hatred are just as relevant now as they always have been despite the advances made, but Haggis, and I doubt he did it intentionally, preys on his viewer by using the inherent ignorance in each of us to make the film seem superior and revelatory.

CRASH takes place in a rough 24-hour period. In that period, a handful of Los Angeles inhabitants from all walks of life experience so much suffering that you would think the end of the world had arrived. Now, all that transpires is certainly possible but too darn convenient for me to swallow. Newton and Howard are seriously abused by a racist police officer (Dillon) one night and the next day, she ends up in a massive car accident and he ends up in a carjacking that turns into a run-in with the law. I bet the “Honey, how was your day?” conversation between those two had to be impressive after that. And imagine when Newton reveals that Dillon had to save her from the car and Howard is flabbergasted because Dillon’s partner (Ryan Phillippe) from the night before ended up saving his ass earlier that day. The scene between Newton and Dillon in the car cannot work as effectively if the previous scene they share doesn’t happen first but the odds are too overwhelming for me to accept. If this storyline stood on its own then perhaps it would be easier but taken with everything else, it all just feels as though Haggis is moving the pieces on the board one at a time to make the game play out as he needs instead of how it might.

The other writing technique that infuriates me more and more with further viewings of CRASH is the way Haggis delights in playing with his viewer’s ignorance. Larenz Tate and Ludacris walk down a trendy L.A. street at night and debate racial complacency and prevalence in modern society. They look like thugs but everything they’re saying about contemporary attitudes toward race make so much sense to me and must naturally appeal to my white liberal sensibility. It is so obvious that Haggis wants us to sympathize with these poor black guys who can’t get a break. Consequently, we are also supposed to feel disdain for Sandra Bullock and Brandan Fraser as they walk past in their fancy outfits toward their expensive car. Not because their combined acting performances cannot amount to anything more than embarrassment (which might explain why they are the least featured characters in the ensemble) but rather because they judged these fine, young gentlemen by the colour of their skin as they walked past them. They assumed that they look like thugs and therefore must be. Imagine the audience’s shock and disgust with themselves when the thugs actually are thugs and they steal the white people’s cars. Haggis spends all this time exposing the audience’s ignorance in hopes of opening their eyes to it but he finishes by simply reinforcing the stereotypes and insulting my intelligence.

I am aware that I am gay and I am siding with the gay-themed film but BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN had won nearly every major award leading up to the Oscars and was considered a near-lock. The win for CRASH only shows me that the mainstream Academy was not ready to bestow accolades so publicly on a gay-themed film. Not to mention, that as a gay man, I am still a minority, just an invisible one. This can get pretty ugly sometimes when people don’t censor themselves because they don’t realize that we are among them. I suffer prejudice; I am still fighting for some basic human rights because I am still seen as less than human. It is exactly this kind of hatred that makes it impossible for the characters in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN to experience the love they are so obviously meant to. It is also the exact kind of hatred that CRASH tries so hard to bring to light but yet shines no light on the plight of the gays because theirs is not a racial issue. It still sure feels that way sometimes. As for the love that BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN fights so hard to foster, troubled or not, the characters in CRASH still get to have that and don’t even see for a second how fortunate they are for that opportunity. Despite this, they choose to live in their misery and all any of them can seem to do is blame everything bad in their lives on race.

Black Sheep’s 2005 Top 10

CAPOTE, Bennett Miller
MATCH POINT, Woody Allen
MUNICH, Steven Spielberg
WALK THE LINE, James Mangold

Friday, October 09, 2009


Written and Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed and Sari Lennick

Larry Gopnick: It’s not always easy to decipher what God is trying to tell us.

Let alone deciphering, it isn’t always that easy even hearing what God is trying to tell us most of the time. Imagine trying to hear God speak to you when you walk in the house at the end of an incredibly long day, only to hear your trouble-making son complain about how the television reception is off, your daughter complaining about how the uncle that is staying with you never leaves the bathroom so that she can do her hair and your wife, after barely acknowledging your presence, asking when you’re going to make that appointment with the divorce lawyer. This is Larry Gopnick’s life, as told by Joel and Ethan Coen in their latest and most personal film, A SERIOUS MAN. Clearly, God is trying to tell Larry something about his life but with the Coen’s playing God, it isn’t the least bit surprising that there is nothing clear about it at all.

A SERIOUS MAN takes place in 1967 in the suburban Midwest. This would be about the time and place that the Coen’s were coming into their own as young men. Larry, his eclectic family and his neighbours were inspired by a pastiche of the adults that surrounded the young filmmakers during that time. And while this is without question their most personal work, it is by no means an autobiography of their own family. What it is, is a morality tale about one man, who could be any man, and his test in life. Yes, this man is a serious man; he tries to do right by others and himself and for him, this is the definition of taking life seriously. How can we take life this way though when there are so many factors beyond our control and how can we then turn to God for both guidance and blame?

The Coen’s here delight in taunting the powers that be in a day when people are looking for answers from powers as vague and as vast as the universe itself. The story is set long before these days but we cannot help but watch from our current perspective. Adding an extra layer of existentialism is the devout Judaism of almost the entire cast. The film opens with a tale of a couple who inadvertently invite a dybbuk (the soul of a dead person) into their home, subsequently cursing their family for eternity. It isn’t confirmed whether Larry Gopnick is a direct descendent of these two but with everything he has to go through, you’ve got to assume he must be. The deep roots that ground Judaism in tradition and bond its people to each other and to their God don’t necessarily provide answers as welll and while this could be interpreted as criticism, it feels more like a sympathetic and jovial send-up instead.

At the center of it all, there is an ordinary man going through an extraordinarily difficult time that he cannot seem to take control of regardless of the efforts he makes. The Tony-nominated stage actor, Michael Stuhlbarg, cements that center with a remarkably memorable performance. His face may be weathered but it is also one of genuine earnest that is increasingly more stupefied with every new burden he must bear. His misfortune inspires both sympathy and big laughs, proving that we all know that life is hard; that we’ve all been there to some extent and that if we were lucky enough to get out of there, we can look back and laugh. And try as he might to be that serious man at all costs, the one lesson that Larry cannot seem to grasp is that no matter how hard we fight, maybe some of us are just plain cursed to begin with.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Black Sheep presents: The Belanger Brothers vs. The Coen Brothers


I suppose it is somewhat fitting that our final Coen Brothers face-off is about O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? This is not just because I find myself asking that question most times we talk about film in general but also because one of the film's major themes is brotherhood. I was not a fan of this one when it first came out but I have to say that I enjoyed it a lot more this time around. I won't suggest that this is a film for all. It is intentionally and often overly symbolic and it takes itself very seriously, sometimes far too much so. That said, it has a peaceful tone to it. If you read it like one big Homer-style odyssey, then it is a lot easier to enjoy the journey, no matter how lost it may seem at times. Oh, and to properly honour the film, I was sure to download the soundtrack when I was done watching. In fact, I'm listening to it now. Go ahead; mock me.

I wasn't going to mock you at all. The soundtrack is one of the best soundtracks to a film ever. I loved the music. Just thinking about the movie I have "Down to the River" in my head. For me it was tough to watch this movie. Setting the Odyssey in modern day seemed completely out of place and made this movie look like a poorly made fantasy/bank robbery/escape movie. It just seemed all over the place. Lost doesn't even seem to cover what this movie felt like. I enjoyed a few scenes, but this is not even close to being a good movie.

I find it funny that you would call the turn of the last century to be modern times but I suppose it is in relation to when Homer walked the earth. I have to agree with you; the setting is awkward and does not always come across the way it should. The Coen's were stubborn with this project. They tried to make something work when they might have known it wasn't. That said, I think that the scenes that do work, which is a good deal of them - the baptism by the lake, the sirens song, the Big Dan scene - make it functional, if not fully. What you need to carry you through this film is something to follow as a leader and as George Clooney is not strong enough in this film to do that, I chose to follow their unintended path - pursuing a treasure blindly because it is a seemingly easier score when there are already riches in their lives that they just don't see.

"Riches in their lives..." I almost gagged when you said this. All you need is love, blah blah blah. Hippy. They were unwashed and running from the law. A little money would have been good. Anyways, I did enjoy the Big Dan scene. The thing is, when it comes down to it, this movie isn't worth the memory it's taking up in my head. If I'm going to watch a quirky fantasy movie set in more modern setting, I'll watch THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN. Much more enjoyable film.

For one, all you do need is love but that wasn't what I was talking about when I referred to riches. I simply meant that while they are focused on a treasure, the Soggy Bottom Boys could be raking it in. You see? They had the treasure all along; they were just going about it all wrong.

The Soggy Bottom Boys make them sound like a tag team of bed-wetters. That would have made for a better movie.

O Brother ...

Black Sheep would like to thank Matthew Belanger for putting his disgust for the Coen's aside and participating in this series. That's my little brother y'all!

Come back tomorrow for a full length review of the Coen's latest film, A SERIOUS MAN.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Black Sheep presents: The Belanger Brothers vs. The Coen Brothers


So when we talked about FARGO, I mentioned that it was one of the most overrated movies of all time. THE BIG LEBOWSKI is the other one. I always compare this movie to SCARFACE. Wait for it. SCARFACE and THE BIG LEBOWSKI have some great quotes to them. Some of the most quotable movies ever. But that's all they've got. When I talk to fans of the movie and tell them how much I don't care for it, their usual response is something like: "The Dude abides." I do enjoy the two John's (Goodman and Turturro) in this movie. I think they made their scenes entertaining. But I don't care to watch some useless layabout strive to do nothing and fail at that (and life) for two hours. The Matt does not abide this. The Dude is up there with Ernest (Ernest Goes to Camp) and Freddie (Freddie Got Fingered) as one of the stupidest characters of all time.

Yes, to think about The Dude for any lengthy period of time would lead you to think he is a waste of space. Coen characters are often those without voices though. You might argue that they don't deserve voices but in this day when everybody has a voice online, why shouldn't The Dude? That said, I don't feel that THE BIG LEBOWSKI ages well. I am not laughing as hard as I did when I first saw it but maybe the drugs I'm taking aren't as strong as they were when I first saw it either. This is a Coen Brothers stoner flick, which is to say I guess, an artsy stoner flick and I think, once the buzz wears off and the smoke has cleared, there may not be so much art to speak of waiting. Premise-wise, it is still a hilarious mistaken identity caper.

Why shouldn't the Dude have a voice? Because he doesn't want one. He wants nothing. He just wants to drink white russians and bowl. Which, sounds like a decent existence to some of this movie's cult following, but is a waste of space both in this world and on the DVD shelf. You call it a hilarious mistaken identity caper. Why? They have the same name. Are these gangsters from FARGO? Can they not think a little harder and realize that this might not be the right guy? I once lived on the same street as another Matt Belanger. That Matt Belanger has a blemish on his credit which showed up on my credit report. You know how long it took to clear up? 5 minutes. The only reason these storylines work is because the Coen Brothers live in a cartoon world where you don't need actual thought. I feel like Beavis and Butthead have not only been allowed to make movies but are considered brilliant for doing it. I feel like when these guys aren't directing they're just banging their heads against a wall and calling it brainstorming!!

Isn't that part of the point though? The Dude wants nothing to do with anything. He just wants to bowl and get stupid peacefully but life will not leave him alone. Sometimes life shines its light on those who would rather stay in the dark and that is what the Coen's have done with The Dude. He is a reluctant hero, which I suppose can be off putting to someone like yourself, who likes his heroes to smile, show up and want to be there, but that just isn't always the way life works. Yes, the plot could have been nipped in the very beginning but The Dude keeps it going by demanding compensation for his poor pissed-on rug. I agree that the Coen's take some elaborate liberties in this one but this doesn't come from banging their head on the wall ... "bonging" their heads against the wall is more likely.

I have no problem with a reluctant hero or one that doesn't smile. Some of the best heroes never smile. Jack Bauer. Batman. Bilbo Baggins. I have a problem with a hero that doesn't think. I have a problem with calling him a hero at all. This movie doesn't even deserve this much attention.

I don't think The Dude would want to be called a hero either but here we are. And you may noth think it deserves it but it's gotten this much attention and then some. THE BIG LEBOWSKI remains a favorite amongst Coen Brother fans. Can they all really be wrong?


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Black Sheep presents: The Belanger Brothers vs. The Coen Brothers


There is nothing you can say to me that will take away from how I feel about this film. After watching it again for the third or fourth time last night, I can confidently say that NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is the Coen brothers absolute best work. I know I just said FARGO was their bast work yesterday but I've changed my mind. I'm allowed to do that. It saddens me somewhat to say that as it is an adaptation and author, Cormac McCarthy's solid structure clearly keeps Joel and Ethan in check here. Regardless, this film attacks with a hushed ferocity that never lets up and completely transfixes the viewer into this intense hunting session. They have dropped their signature quirk and let their characters be more human than ever before, making their filmmaking more disturbing than it has ever been before as well.

After reading what you wrote, I couldn't agree more. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is the best film among many awful movies. This is not to say I didn't enjoy it. They just make bad movies. I enjoyed "No Country". I found it gripping and filled with tension. The score and scenery were amazing. I found Javier Bardem to be the best part of this film. Everyone else played characters that were not stretches for them. Bardem blew me away. And the weapon of choice was genius. I think that this was the most accessible Coen film because they dropped the annoying wide-eyed acting. What you call signature quirk, I call annoying and the reason I wish they wouldn't make any more movies. I'd say my only complaint about this movie is the end. I found Tommy Lee Jones' speech at the end to be long and it went nowhere. The movie would have been much better off finishing right before this.

I will ignore your comment about how all their other films are crap and just focus on the fact that you liked this one. I find it particularly interesting that you would call "No Country" their most accessible film. "Accessible" is not a word I would associate with such a carefully paced film, let alone one that is so violent. I feel like you're saying that this is the Coen movie for people who don't like the Coens. And while I agree that Bardem was haunting and pushed himself personally (especially when you consider his heavy Spanish accent), I think that "No Country" put Josh Brolin back on the map and that Tommy Lee Jones really tapped into that sense of loss and defeat necessary to make the movie. After all, he is the old man from the title.

I am trying to say that actually. The Coens finally made a movie that people who don't like to Coens can watch. And while I also agree with your other comment abuot Brolin back on the map, I wouldn't excactly call this a stretch from him, which is a theme throughout Coen films. Actors (whether they have range or not) playing rangeless roles. What I liked most about this film is Carter Burwell's score. I am looking forward to seeing what he does with Where the Wild Things Are. The tone and overall feel of the film was perfectly set by the score. This was a highlight for me. I was annoyed that it didn't even get a nomination. It won so many awards it didn't deserve. For me this movie should have only won the Oscars for the DP Roger Deakins, Bardem for sure and the score. I would have preferred the Best Picture go to JUno (which would never happen) or THERE WILL BE BLOOD.

While I do love JUNO and THERE WILL BE BLOOD, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is an instant American classic. It is a distinctly American story and a culmination of so many incredible elements that make it a near perfect picture. In my opinion, and apparently also Roger Ebert's according to the BD sleeve, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is flawless.

You see, we were being so civil to each other and now you went and called it a classic. Making a flawless picture (which it's not) doesn't make for an instant classic. You have to have something that will stand out. Something that will make you remember. His murder weapon and his eyes are memorable. But this movie will not even rank in the classic category.

Joseph: There you have it, folks. My brother just called Roger Ebert a big liar.


Sunday, October 04, 2009

Black Sheep presents: The Belanger Brothers vs. The Coen Brothers


All this week, Black Sheep will be taking a look at a different Coen Brothers movie each day in anticipation of their latest release, A SERIOUS MAN. Well, I am anticipating it; my brother, Matthew, is certainly not. In fact, I would think that he would be seriously boycotting A SERIOUS MAN but that would imply that he cared and when it comes to the Coen's, my brother likes to exert as little energy towards them as possible. This is why it surprised me when he agreed to partake in a little back and forth about four of the Coen brothers more prolific films with me. This would mean he would have to think about them and maybe even watch some of them again. He really came through though and for those of you who don't know us personally, you only need to know that we both love movies but have near opposite taste most of the time. It has in the past come to blows. Seriously.

First up on the chopping block, or perhaps I should say, first up at the wood chipper is FARGO.

FARGO for me is the Coen's best work. It's quirky but it's also very real. This is a story of desperation and how that can lead to unintended, horrible outcomes. The bleakness of the story is matched only by the Minnesota landscape where it is set and is only offset by the vivid colour of the performances by the entire cast. William H. Macy makes me feel so uncomfortable at all times; Steve Buscemi cements himself as the weird looking guy of indie film; and Frances McDormand is the film's soul. As that body is infamously being stuffed down the wood chipper, it becomes perfectly clear why FARGO won the Coen's their first Original Screenplay Oscar.

Fargo for me is one of the most overrated movies of all time. I find the characters to be typical quirky Coen brothers style but everyone in this movie is unrealistic and way stupid enough to fit into a Harold and Kumar movie. McDormand's Marge Gunderson is a character that fails upwards throughout the movie and has been considered brilliant by the film community for doing this. Buscemi, Stormare and Macy have played the same character over and over again, so not much depth there but it fits into the film so kudos to the casting director. The plot was ok but not remotely original. And the "infamous" wood chipper scene is the most overrated part of an overrated movie. Nothing about this movie makes me believe that the Coen brothers have any grasp on reality let alone a grasp on good film making. Where you saw vivid color against the Minnesota landscape, I saw cold weather and tired plotlines combined with typical Coen brothers wide-eyed acting.

It's funny to me that FARGO for you does nothing to ground the Coen's as realists when I think that the reason it works so well is because I can believe that this whacked out situation is actually plausible thanks to their fine screenplay. And don't you be dissin' Margie! She is tough, sharp and good at both her job and being a wife. The film community applauds the performance, not just the character, and McDormand follows the trail with as much amazement as the viewer does.

I have no idea if she's a good wife. One could argue that a pregnant woman as far along as she is running around in stressful and dangerous situations is not doing her baby any favors and, as an extension, not showing her husband respect. But as for tough and sharp, we clearly have different definitions of those words. I would think of her as more dimwitted and lucky. Sure she looks like a genius next the rest of the idiots in this movie, but this movie is one slow person shy of being a Trailer Park Boys movie. I will give you that though. It is realistic to have this bunch of inbreeds come up with this series of events.

The woman makes time for breakfast with her husband even though there is a murder investigation waiting for her. She even picks him up art supplies so he can sit at home and paint bad duck art. Now, that's love! And as for the inbreeding comment, I know you dislike the Coen's but that is no reason to start insulting their parents.

I did not mean the inbreeding comment towards the Coen brothers but rather the bunch of geniuses in their films. Although I do disagree that their parents don't shoulder some of the blame and deserve some of the ridicule. As for her making breakfast and funding her degenerate artist husband, thank you for furthering my point.

Ouch. I got schooled a little there. Next Up: NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.

Black Sheep @ The Box Office: Zombieland Livens Up the Box Office

I don't pretend to know what I'm talking about all the time but it was pretty clear to me that ZOMBIELAND was going to do good business this weekend. Industry money was on the third frame of CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS and, while the latter is holding up quite strongly, ZOMBIELAND surpassed expectations to claim the weekend. Zombie movie of the week! Having already made more than its reported budget, ZOMBIELAND is showing great signs of life for the weeks ahead.

The double-bill, two-week rerelease of TOY STORY and TOY STORY 2 in 3D played solidly considering the raining meatballs in the next room. $12.5 million is hardly a Pixar-size opening but this is more of a treat than anything else. The rest of the Top 10 news is pretty disappointing. Ricky Gervais keeps trying hard to crack the American audiences but his latest, THE INVENTION OF LYING fizzled in fourth place. Still, that was nothing compared to Drew Barrymore's wipeout it 6th place with her directorial debut, WHIP IT. It's a shame really because it has got great bite. WHIP IT essentially ties Michael Moore's latest "documentary", CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY. One will have to settle for 7th place when the final numbers come in. Moore's movie may have increased almost 2000% over last week but the per screen average dropped for $60K to $5K with this expansion suggesting it won't play much wider than this.

A trio of limited pics pulled in averages in the teens below the Top 10. Increasing over 587% by adding 21 screens, horror flick, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, pulled in an average $16.2K. Basketball documentary, MORE THAN A GAME, debuted to a solid $14K average. And COCO BEFORE CHANEL managed a strong hold in its second week, with a $13K average after adding 11 screens. It was the Coen Brothers' latest, A SERIOUS MAN, though, that scored the best per screen of any film playing, with an average of $42K on just six screens. With serious Oscar buzz for A SERIOUS MAN brewing, its expansion should go a lot better than life does for the protagonist of the film. See it; you'll understand.

NEXT WEEK: COUPLES RETREAT hits 3000 hot spots. TIFF favorites, THE DAMNED UNITED and AN EDUCATION platform. Chris Rock's documentary, GOOD HAIR, hits 200 screens. And the Clive Owen Oscar hopeful, THE BOYS ARE BACK, expands.

SOURCE: Box Office Mojo

Thursday, October 01, 2009


Written by Anne Fontaine and Camille Fontaine
Directed by Anne Fontaine
Starring: Audrey Tautou, Benoit Poelvoorde and Alessandro Nivola

Everyone loves to know who people were before they became famous. Were they serving up fries with that or were they offering towels to the well to do after they washed their hands in the rest room? We certainly enjoy these back stories as they offer a glimmer of hope that if these people made it somewhere when it seemed at one time that their lives were going nowhere, then we might one day accomplish the same. It may even give us a little insight into what made those we admire. That said, if their rise to the top is as tame as fashionista, Coco Chanel’s, as told in COCO AVANT CHANEL, it isn’t as easy to get all that excited.

It’s not that Chanel didn’t have humble beginnings to overcome, obstacles to tackle or brave paths to forge. It’s just that the manner in which French director, Anne Fontaine, tells them is not terribly compelling. Chanel, played by Audrey Tautou, was abandoned by her father as a girl after her mother died. She was placed in an orphanage with her sister and when she grew up, she longed to perform on the stage. When that didn’t pan out as she had hoped, she basically finagled her way into the home of millionaire, Etienne Balsan (Benoit Poelvoorde), and stayed there until she had figured out what she wanted to do with herself. What she wanted was to turn her hat-making hobby into a career in fashion. What she accomplished instead was the creation of an empire.

Chanel’s story is one that deserves telling but it doesn’t make for a very engaging film. She stands apart as a fashion icon because she always held true to her own vision and she stands alone as a human being because she refused to compromise herself for love and security. Fontaine paints her as a tragically unhappy figure and Tautou follows suit with a near-permanent scowl on her face. There is never any moment where her success is celebrated or where her journey is so dire that any success at all is championed by the audience. Without any visual transformation, COCO AVANT CHANEL never comes anywhere near the elegance that made Chanel what it was.