Saturday, July 31, 2010


Directed by Lucy Walker

“Somebody’s going to make a mistake some day and we’re all going to suffer for it.”

There are currently nine countries in the world with nuclear capacity.  Each of them claims to operate and maintain their nuclear warheads with the utmost care and only intends to use them if one of the other countries uses theirs on them first.  By that logic, nuclear arms are solely for the purpose of protection even though the damage they cause is nothing short of catastrophic.  And who is responsible for the day-to-day supervision of these real life weapons of mass destruction?  Just ordinary folk like you or me, that’s who.  And if humanity has taught us anything about ourselves over the years, it is that inevitably, we will make a simple but fatal error.  Only this error will wipe out millions of people within minutes.

Director, Lucy Walker wants us to wake up and smell the radioactive coffee.  In COUNTDOWN TO ZERO, she makes a sincere plea to the audience to stop pretending like nothing bad will ever come from the world’s nuclear research and development.  She does so by simply reminding us of the magnitude of their destructive properties and then by showing us a number of examples where control over these weapons has been very easily lost.  These weapons cannot exist without humanity clearly.  Human beings invented them and developed the technology that has now given every country in the world the potential capacity to obtain them with the right amount of funding.  Human beings also watch over them and what with our insatiable greed and desire for power, not to mention our great tendency toward stupidity, it seems ridiculous that we all walk around feeling safe from the very real threat they pose.

COUNTDOWN TO ZERO should be mandatory viewing in every household and every schoolroom across the planet.  The threat of nuclear annihilation is very real but currently very easily ignored. Despite this, Walker is firm in her conviction and makes her points plainly but effectively.  The simplicity with which she presents the imminence of nuclear war only furthers her argument about how equally simple it is for it to all come apart.  Within the next fifteen minutes, 2000 nuclear bombs could launch and kill over 100, 000, 000 people in just half an hour.  You won’t even have the time to see this movie after having finished reading this review.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Black Sheep previews: TIFF 2010

A couple of weeks ago, when I returned home after missing a flight to New York City (long story, very long), I opened my inbox to find an e-mail from an editor I have worked with before, responding to an inquiry I had put to her.  She informed me that she would indeed be interested in sending me to the Toronto International Film Festival to cover it for the magazine.  The only obstacle ahead of me, as I have already booked off a good chunk of the month of September to devote to this, is getting accredited.  I have been rejected the last two years but, according to my editor, this one should be a "slam dunk".  I am hesitant to start celebrating right this moment but it's a lot closer to a "Yes!" than I usually get.

Yesterday, TIFF announced it's first slate of films that will be presented in both Gala and Special Presentation at the 35th anniversary edition of the much-loved festival.  Altogether there were 15 Galas and 35 Special Presentations, 25 of which are world premieres.  Being accredited at TIFF will mean access to interviews with the 100's of filmmakers and celebrities who come through Toronto each year, as well as access to the dozens of films that will be presented.  It may even give me access to the parties!  Naturally, people have started asking if I can bring guests.  I must remind you, and myself apparently, that I still don't have accreditation but in the meantime, I can dream about seeing these films and experiencing them TIFF styles.

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
North American Premiere
Starring Javier Bardem

After directing what is affectionately known as "The Death Trilogy" - AMORES PERROS21 GRAMS and BABEL - Alejandro González Iñárritu returns with BIUTIFUL and he isn't the least bit perkier.  Javier Bardem, who already won an acting award for this performance at Cannes, stars as a man in downfall, who can sense the danger of death looming and that must find redemption by going to darker places first.  What will certainly be a visual feast sounds as though it could be a philosophical one as well.

Directed by Darren Aronofsky
North American Premiere
Starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis and Winona Ryder

This picture is already slated for a premiere in Venice just weeks before screening at TIFF but those of us who cannot afford the price of a gondola will be waiting patiently for it's North American premiere.  Natalie Portman as a ballerina with the NYC ballet, caught in a heated rival with a fellow dancer.  In any lesser hands, it could just be catty but this is Darren Aronofsky - the man who gave us REQUIEM FOR A DREAM and THE WRESTLER.  After the latter floored me for being such a departure, I cannot wait to see where he is going next.

Directed by Derek Cianfrance
Canadian Premiere
Starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams

I can't say I've ever heard of Derek Cianfrance or seen anything he has done.  No disrespect meant.  That said, when the two leads in your film are the incredibly understated and ego-free actors, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, I cannot help but pay very close attention.  Told in past and present moments, BLUE VALENTINE looks at love lost and found as two lovers fight for their relationship one last time.

Directed by Mark Romanek
World Premiere
Starring Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightly

Who doesn't love a good boarding school love triangle?  Who doesn't love it even more when the girls on either side are two of Britain's most talented young ladies, Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightly?  Sure the new Spider-man (Andrew Garfield) is the guy they're fighting over but this one is all about the ladies.  Music video director, Mark Romanek, tries his novice hand at directing feature films again with NEVER LET ME GO and from the looks of the trailer, he has learned that story can serve you just as much as style, if not even more.

Directed by Woody Allen
North American Premiere
Starring Antonio Banderas, Josh Brolin and Naomi Watts

I don't know if Woody Allen plans on attending TIFF but if he does and if I can actually get an interview with the man, I may pee when I meet him.  He is one of my all time favorite directors.  ANNIE HALL is my all time favorite film.  I see everything he makes .. Ok, maybe not everything.  You can tell when Woody is a little bit off course and that's pretty much what people have been saying about YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER since it debuted at Cannes this spring.  I do not care though.  Any movie that makes it even remotely possible to meet this man is a great movie in my books.

Look for plenty more TIFF coverage to come in the weeks leading up to the festival, which runs from September 9 to 19.  For more information, visit

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Written by Thomas Bidegain and Jacques Audiard
Directed by Jacques Audiard
Starring Tahar Rahim and Niels Arestrup

A prophet is either one chosen by God to spread his word or an individual capable of telling the future.  In UN PROPHETEMalik El Djebena (relative newcomer, Tahar Rahim) has found himself in prison at the age of nineteen so it doesn’t appear that God has anything intended for him.  One day though, he is mistaken for a prophet when he predicts an accident with a deer after having seen the event take place in a dream.  Malik is not a prophet though because he doesn’t predict the future.  Malik makes the future.

At nineteen, he has no friends in prison or out.  Seeing this, a group of imprisoned Corsican mafia men, led by Cesar Luciani (the ferocious Niels Arestrup) approach Malik with an offer he cannot refuse.  It has only been hours since he has been in prison and the men who are clearly in charge are offering him protection.  All he has to do is kill another Arab inmate who is being housed in the prison until he testifies in court.  Malik has never killed anyone before but if he says no, then he will be killed.  The situation is inescapable and it shapes Malik into the man he is destined to become during his six-year sentence.  Director Jacques Audiard then follows Malik’s growth, balancing back and forth between the numerous different prison gangs with ease, while Malik learns the trades, meets the right people and plots to overthrow the kings that made him.

UN PROPHETE may have lost the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film this past year but anyone who watches it will know and feel that they are watching a contemporary crime classic while every unexpected turn unfolds before them.  It’s a good thing its so good too because the Blu-ray options, safe for a director/star French audio commentary complete with English subtitles, are scant and forgettable.  The film is anything but.



Sunday, July 25, 2010

Black Sheep @ The Box Office

There isn't much of excitement to report on at this week's box officer.  Friday essentially decided whether or not SALT and Angelina Jolie would have the muscle to take down Christopher Nolan's powerhouse, INCEPTION.  It did not.  Still, the start is a good $9 million more than THE BOURNE IDENTITY did in its first weekend.  Their averages were about the same as well and, seeing as SALT so clearly wants to be the female Bourne, the start is a good one.  Overseas dollars will make the decision but if they follow suit, a sequel will be made.  INCEPTION meanwhile had the second smallest second week dip all year.  (The record belongs to THE TOOTH FAIRY oddly enough).  At nearly $145 million in just two weeks, INCEPTION is poised to surpass BATMAN BEGINS as Nolan's second biggest hit behind THE DARK KNIGHT.  And finally, it could still change after final numbers are in Monday, but estimates have THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT bringing in almost $2.7 million on just 200 screens, placing it at number eleven.  Hopefully, the kids will be more than all right and find themselves in the Top 10 next week.  Oh, and RAMONA AND BEEZUS bombed in 8th place .. in case anyone cares.

NEXT WEEK: Pretty boy Zac Efron hopes to expand his acting chops and audience with CHARLIE ST. CLOUD on 2500 screens.  Also appearing on 2500 screens is the American remake of the French film, DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS with Steve Carrell.  And debuting on a whopping 3700 screens is the long awaited sequel, CATS AND DOGS 2: THE REVENGE OF KITTY GALORE.  How does this happen?

Source: Box Office Mojo

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Black Sheep presents The Director Series


By now you’ve likely already seen it.  I’m sure you, like myself, rushed to catch Christopher Nolan’s much hyped summer thriller, INCEPTION when it was released.  And so by now I’m sure you’ve formed an opinion on the subject as it seems to be taking shape as rather polarized film.  Given that Nolan’s popularity only seems to be getting more and more impressive with each film he releases, I thought it best to take a look back at some of the work that has gotten him to this point.  Now, everyone already knows that Nolan is the man behind the successful revamp of the Batman franchise, BATMAN BEGINS, and that Nolan went on to make what some consider the greatest comic book movie ever made, THE DARK KNIGHT.  Considering the familiarity with these works, Black Sheep will be taking a look back at Nolan’s non-caped crusader films, beginning with the one that got everybody both talking and scratching their heads long before INCEPTION was even conceived.


After his first feature, FOLLOWING, garnered some solid festival response, Nolan’s next script was optioned for production for an eventual platform release.  Based on the short story, “Memento Mori” by Nolan’s brother, Jonathan, a frequent collaborator, MEMENTO would debut to impressive critical praise and would go on to become a cult classic.  Guy Pearce stars as Leonard Shelby, a man obsessed with revenge – if only he could remember what for.  I’m exaggerating but essentially, Leonard is not able to form any new memories so he forgets what has happened shortly after it happens to him.  He has suffered from this rare affliction since he was struck from behind when he walked in on the rape and  murder of his wife.  Through the use of a strict system using Polaroids of people and crude tattoos of the facts, Leonard spends all his time tracking down the man that took his wife and life away.

“Just because there are things I don’t remember doesn’t mean my actions are meaningless.  
The world doesn’t just disappear when you close your eyes.”

There is nothing particularly new about memory loss stories or stories about widowers bent on revenge so how is it that MEMENTO is best known for its originality? The answer can be found in the screenplay and the editing, fittingly the two aspects of this film that were honoured with Academy Award nominations.  Nolan tells us the story backwards, more or less, that is.  When Leonard kills someone just after we’ve met him, we have no idea why or whether he was justified.  Scene by scene, the events that led Leonard to this moment are revealed to us but at no point does the viewer feel comfortable enough to trust anyone Leonard comes into contact with, from his fast-talking, weasel of a friend, Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) to the gorgeous but damaged bartender who is helping him, Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss).  When your protagonist cannot remember anything, how can we trust anything he claims to know for a fact?  The approach results in Leonard trying to solve the mystery that is his own life while we are dragged down into the same madness that ensues from his attempts.


Naturally, Nolan had his pick of what his next project would be.  He decided to go the Hollywood route with the remake of the 1997 Norwegian film of the same name, INSOMNIA.  The cast was led by Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Hilary Swank.  Albeit not officially credited – that honour belongs to Hilary Seitz – Nolan is said to have penned the final draft of this murder mystery.  Without the credit though, INSOMNIA remains the only film Nolan has been involved with where he does not have any writing credit.  The detachment does the director good as he takes what is essentially a very straightforward crime thriller and gives it class and savvy.  Pacino, a decorated police hero, has been summoned up to Alaska to consult on a case that has the local police baffled.  Pacino puts them all to shame when he gets there but it isn’t long before the round the clock sunshine starts to mess with his sleep and subsequently his head.

“A good cop can’t sleep because he’s missing a piece of the puzzle.
A bad cop can't sleep because his conscience won’t let him.”

It isn’t actually the light that is keeping Pacino up, even though it makes for a convenient excuse.  No, Pacino has a messy internal affairs investigation waiting for him at home and, unbeknownst to his fellow officers, he was involved in the shooting of another officer tied to the investigation.  Now, I happen to be someone who has on occasion battled with insomnia and I can say that Nolan gets the effect just right.  Pens tapping on a desk or fans rotating back and forth are ordinarily background noise but when you haven’t slept, they become isolated and exaggerated.  You become disconnected from what is happening all around you, missing moments and having visions.  Most importantly, when you haven’t slept, whatever it is that is keeping you awake has a tendency of creeping to the surface and driving you somewhat mad.  Unfortunately, this generally leads to more sleeplessness.  Albeit not as trippy as Nolan’s other works, INSOMNIA showed that Nolan could take somewhat generic material and make it compelling and memorable.


In 2006, Nolan was paired with two gentlemen that he would go on to work with regularly.  THE PRESTIGE, a period piece about two magician’s struggles to impress the masses while out doing each other, pits Hugh Jackman against Christian Bale and places Michael Caine and Scarlett Johansson in between them.  I’m not sure if Nolan just didn’t get on with Jackman and Johansson (who oddly enough would go on to star in another movie involving what was supposed to be magic, Woody Allen’s SCOOP) but of course Bale would go on to be Batman with Caine as his Alfred.  It is another Nolan regular that would go on to earn his first of three cinematography Oscar nominations for THE PRESTIGE, Wally Pfister.  Pfister has lensed all of Nolan’s pictures (safe for FOLLOWING) and was also nominated for both of Nolan’s Batman features.  Something tells me we might be hearing his name tossed around again this year for INCEPTION too.

“Are you watching closely?”

When I first saw THE PRESTIGE, I enjoyed the tricks and twists but watching it again now, it seems an awful lot more like illusion instead of true magic.  As Caine explains early on in the film, there are three parts to every magic trick.  First, set up the trick; build the intrigue.  The next bit is called “The Turn”, in which case you pretty much turn your back to the audience and make something ordinary look extraordinary.  None of this matters without what the third part – The Prestige.  If you make something disappear, it only matters if you bring it back.  Nolan seems to be trying the entire way through to fit the film into these three sections but by the time his personal prestige is revealed, the steps he’s taken to get there have rendered it somewhat unimpressive.  It might have something to do with the completely unnecessary love triangle between Jackman, Johansson and Bale.  Then again, it might just be that Nolan isn’t as good a magician as he thought he was.

If you’ve read my review for INCEPTION, then you know I had mixed feelings about it.  Great or not though, there is no denying that Nolan is now a name and he has entered the ranks of contemporary auteur directors.  You don’t get on that list for being known though.  You get there for having a voice.  It may not have its full range yet but his voice is definitely distinct.

Friday, July 23, 2010


Written by Kurt Wimmer
Directed by Philip Noyce
Starring Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor

Evelyn Salt: I'm not who you think I am.
The tagline for SALT poses the question, “Who is Salt?” and after sitting through the incredibly fast-paced spy thriller, I can honestly say that I have no idea who this Salt chick is really.  I can say that the movie that is named for her is riddled with plot holes but when the heroine is as hot and adept at avoiding those holes as Angelina Jolie is, I don’t think it really matters.

When I see a Jolie action film, I’m not looking for anything particularly challenging in terms of depth.  This bodes well for SALT as what little depth director Philip Noyce tries to infuse into the film is shaky at best.  Jolie is Evelyn Salt, a CIA operative who has done incredible things for her country in her time with the agency.  As to what country’s interests she actually serves, well, her loyalties are a little gray there.  When a Russian defector walks into the CIA building and announces that a Russian operative named Evelyn Salt is going to kill the Russian president, her credibility is shot despite her achievements.  She couldn’t possibly be a Russian spy, right?  Wrong.  She could actually be part of a decades-old Russian project that trained spies as children and then implanted them into the United States to lie dormant until the time came years later for them to do what they were always programmed to do.  Like I said earlier, as long as Jolie is running around, being her bad-ass, awesome self and narrowly avoiding defeat while she jumps from one moving vehicle to the next, I can accept a plot as insipid as this one.

Jolie makes SALT.  She doesn’t make it into any sort of masterpiece but her commitment to the character, from the numerous stunts she is reported to carry out herself to her intoxicating Russian accent, elevates what would have certainly been a tired rehash of the Bourne films into a similar franchise for the ladies.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Black Sheep @ The Box Office

Box office experts were estimating a total weekend haul of somewhere between $50 and $60 million for Christopher Nolan's INCEPTION before the weekend started.  It came in at the high end of that estimate but I'm frankly surprised it didn't pull in more considering how everyone how everyone has seemingly been looking forward to this film all summer.  Good word of mouth, and it does have that, should ensure scant declines in the weeks to follow.  It may not have broken any records but Nolan will certainly see INCEPTION go on to become his biggest non-caped crusader earner.  And there is certainly credit due for proving that intelligent blockbusters can find a place in a season where we're all supposed to leave our brains at home.  Be sure to read the Black Sheep INCEPTION review now that you've certainly all seen it.

I know what none of you did see this weekend, THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE.  Thank goodness for Pixar's TOY STORY 3 picking up the weight this summer because, after coming up short last month with PRINCE OF PERSIA, Disney has done it again.  This Jerry Bruckheimer (read: supposedly easy summer sell) production is one of the lowest bows of his career.  It was pretty clear THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE was in trouble when Disney announced on the day of release that tickets would be 2 for 1 through opening weekend.  Anything to get them into the seats, I guess.  Imagine how low the figures would be if they didn't.

A few hot indie titles continued to claw at the Top 10, just barely missing out on the glory.  This week's big success in the touching, THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT.  The Lisa Cholodenko modern family crowd pleaser added 31 screens and saw its gross increase by 108%, pulling in a stellar $27K per screen average in its second week.  The hilarious indie comedy, CYRUS, is losing a little traction as it expands wider but still pulled in close to $1.1 million, dropping off just 16%.  And THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE slipped by 27% in its second week, after adding 38 screens.  I guess no matter how popular the books are in North America, it is still a stretch to get an audience to a Swedish film.

NEXT WEEK: What is apparently supposed to be the best family film of all time, or so the trailers playing on TV tell me incessantly, RAMONA AND BEEZUS hits 2700 screens.  Am I supposed to know who these people are?  No matter really because I don't have a family to bring to the movies.  I will be taking my weekend with a little SALT instead.  The Angelina Jolie action flick will debut on over 3400 screens.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


Written and Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Marion Cotillard and Michael Caine

Eames: If we’re going to perform inception, then we’re going to need imagination.
I knew there was a good reason I fought so hard every night to hold on to my conscious mind and not let my unconscious mind take over.  I’ve got to make sure no pesky extractors get in there to steal my highly sought after secret thoughts.  More importantly, I’ve got to make sure that nobody gets in there and plants an idea that I would go on to believe is entirely my own upon waking up.  This latter assault is called INCEPTION and the extremely dangerous process involved in making it happen is the premise for Christopher Nolan’s film of the same name.  Nolan’s skill as a director gives him the tools to delve deep into the viewer’s mind but after waking up from the dreamlike state INCEPTION creates so delicately, it doesn’t feel like he left anything in there to hold on to.

In order for Nolan to sell INCEPTION, he has a lot of ideas to implant in the audience from the very beginning.  Leonardo Dicaprio and Joseph Gordon-Levitt play professional dreamers, men who, when connected to a fancy box that puts you right to sleep at the push of a button (where can I get this box?!), enter other people’s subconscious minds.  It’s way more complicated than that and INCEPTION does its best to ensure the audience understands its complex ideas.  To begin with, Nolan starts the action with Dicaprio and Gordon-Levitt in the middle of a mission.  This way we get to see first hand what their alternate reality is and it conveniently allows for explanation between characters indirectly aimed to help the audience situate itself.  Comparisons to THE MATRIX are not shocking to me.  Like that film, INCEPTION is a visual marvel that requires a lot of contextualization to get lost in.  And again, like that film, explanatory scenes that stop the action cold are necessary to keep everyone following.  THE MATRIX does one thing differently though – it makes it all about us at the same time so once we do get lost, we have just as much to lose.

Once everyone is on the same page, which takes almost half the film to accomplish, the real mission begins.  Inception, the concept of that is, is thought to be purely theoretical but Dicaprio is determined to make it a reality.  Dicaprio’s team, also including Ellen Page, Ken Wantanabe and the deliciously smarmy Tom Hardy, has been contracted to go deep into the mind of Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy), the heir to an internationally successful corporation.  Once they get deep enough, they must implant an idea that will trigger Fischer to want to dissolve the company when he wakes up.  As the leader of the team, and the dreamer who has been doing this the longest, Dicaprio’s personal issues, primarily the ones involving his secretive past with his wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard), keep creeping into the collectively shared dreams.  Here, dreams and memories get easily confused and threaten to bring everything toppling down.  The corporate espionage angle though keeps the audience at a safe distance when we should all be able to draw upon the shared experience of getting lost in dreams.

Visually, there is no question that INCEPTION will have you dreaming of the fantastical sets and effects long after you’ve seen it.  As Nolan takes us deeper into dreams within dreams, he has total control over all the layers he has designed so deliberately one on top of the other.  He wows us with everything going on around us and grips us by making the success of the mission dependent upon a multitude of factors that must align perfectly within a very small window of time.  Considering how much work is involved in getting this deep and keeping all these layers balanced though, it seems odd that Nolan doesn’t appear to have any grander a purpose to achieving this feat other than proving he could.  In order for inception to work, to ensure the idea really sticks, the subject has to believe that the idea came from himself, like true inspiration.  Nolan burrows into the extreme depths of his subjects but leaves little to nothing insightful behind in the viewer to inspire us when we all wake up.

It's still a good time, mind you ...

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Written by Jonas Frykberg
Directed by Daniel Alfredson
Starring Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvyst

The second installment in the adaptations of Steig Larsson’s now internationally popular literary series, THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, features sex trafficking, violent murder and people being buried alive but yet somehow it is a great deal less horrifying than the first film, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.  A new writer and director came on for the second and third films and, while this caper is certainly more accessible, it is no less engaging and arguably a lot easier to enjoy and appreciate.  I guess I would take dark family secrets over brutal rapes any day.

I do think THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO will remain the most memorable of the series (I’ve not seen the third film but so far, this is what I would expect) but as the novels are being read by more and more people, the release of THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE could not be better timed and it’s “lighter” tone will ensure less squeamish fans of the books will catch it too.  It picks up a year or two after the first closed.  The girl herself, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) looks softer somehow.  The tattoo still covers her back as she gets out of bed but the dark makeup is toned down and the studded collar has been traded in for some silk sheets and a stunning Caribbean view.  Lisbeth has definitely earned this break.  Before long though, she must face the life she has been running from since she was 12.

Her family past catches up with her and before long, she is the main suspect in a triple homicide.  Her loyal cohort, Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvyst) knows her to be innocent and he makes it his personal mission to clear her name.  Last time out, the two paired up to solve a decades old disappearance.  They worked together on someone else’s case and grew to care for each other in a way neither one expected.  This time, they are barely on screen together and they work alone yet in tandem on a case that involves them personally.  Some have criticized this move, claiming that it comes off as more of a convenient excuse to continue on with these characters but I find making it about them makes sense.  Lisbeth is a complicated character and it stands to reason that she would have a complicated and even more damaging past.

THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE does lack the emotional resonance of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO but the shock factor couldn’t just go on forever.  We know who Lisbeth Salander is on the outside; our prejudices were challenged by her character already.  Now it is time to peel away the layers that have made her who she is.  So far, the reveals have been intriguing and compelling.  Now I definitely want to know what happens when the girl is going to go and kick the hornet’s nest.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Written by Ken Daurio
Directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud
Voices by Steve Carrell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand and Kristen Wiig

Gru: Good night, sleep tight.  Don’t let the bed bugs bite … because there are literally thousands of them … and there’s probably something in your closet too.
You’ve gotta love an imagined world where there are evil super villains lurking around stealing things like pyramids and what not right from under the world’s noses.  Arguably, super villains exist in our world but the consequences of their dastardly plots are  little too real for me.  Someone who wants to shrink the moon and hold it ransom though so he can be the biggest, baddest super villain in the world though – now that’s my kinda guy.  Or at least he would be if he weren’t trapped in such a predictable, hollow plot and bogged down by such tired, unfunny dialogue.

Gru is despicable.  As he is the center of his own universe, from his point of view, he is DESPICABLE ME.  Voiced with a pretty sturdy Russian American accent by Steve Carrell, Gru is so evil he pops kids’ balloons after he blows them up for them (gasp!) and freezes the long line of people waiting for their lattes at a local coffee shop so he can go to the front of the line.  I’m shaking in fear here.  What he does next is actually pretty gross when you think about it.  He adopts three little girls so that they can bring a shipment of cookies to his new nemesis, Vector, who is evil with “both direction and magnitude” and voiced delightfully by Jason Segel.  The cookies are really robots though and are designed to steal the shrink ray Gru needs for his moon heist.

In a not at all surprising turn of events, Gru, a man who is supposed to embody evil, finds himself caring for these adorable little girls.  When the girls’ dance recital poses a conflict with his moon heist, you can almost piece together every little lesson still to be learned.  Family films do not have to be complex or present a true face of evil to make their point but they have to try a little harder than this to remain original.  Instead, DESPICABLE ME almost ends up living up to its name and leaves you with little more than a few funny moments and some pretty awesome little minion characters.  Those guys made the movie!  Too bad it wasn’t about them.

Friday, July 09, 2010


Written by Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg
Directed by Lisa Cholodenko
Starring Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson and Mark Ruffalo

Joni: Each of my mom’s used your sperm.
Paul: As in two? As in both of them?
Joni: Uh-huh, as in gay.
I don’t know if anyone has told you this already but family can be fairly complicated. Take Nic and Jules (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) for example. They’ve been together for about 20 years and have two teenage children, one of which (Mia Wasikowska) is about to head off to college. The other (Josh Hutcherson) is somewhat aimless in his adolescent life and decides he needs to know more about where he came from. More specifically, he wants to meet the man who supplied the sperm that made both him and his sister possible. Enter Mark Ruffalo and along with him a disaster of familial proportion.

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT is the fourth film by Lisa Cholodenko, who has regularly explored the nature of complicated relationships and what happens to them when those involved make mistakes they know could crumble their foundations. Deciding to meet sperm donor, Paul (Ruffalo), is not that mistake. His introduction into this family’s life though certainly seems to have given all its members free reign to act out. Naturally, his emergence puts Nic and Jules into a tailspin and how they each approach the situation exposes some of the couple’s deeper issues. Bening and Moore play the couple so perfectly, you can feel a palpable sense of unbalance in the way they treat each other and an urgency to survive. It’s as though years of experiences, both great and harrowing, have been worked into their collective performances.

While Nic and Jules struggle with feelings of inadequacy and replacement, their kids, Joni and Laser (Wasikowska and Hutcherson) try hard to see themselves in Paul. When all three sit to talk for the first time, it is apparent that both nature and nurture played a part in the two kids’ growth. The delicate nature of the introduction is almost lost on the kids because they simply don’t know better. They don’t know that you can go from relating to feeling completely alien in a matter of seconds and that when that happens with the father you never met, the damage can be severe. In their innocence, they thought they wanted something but could never have truly prepared for what they got. And the same can be said for Paul. The potential of family woos him into thinking his life is empty and it isn’t long before he tries any way he can to latch on. Ruffalo is the consummate boy pretending he can be a real man.

Cholodenko has learned to breathe in the six years since her last feature. THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT is like a breeze with a bit of a bite on the back end. As awkward and troubling as all these interactions are, they pass by smoothly and make for a refreshing film – one where a fantastic cast portray real people with equally real problems that deal with them like a good family should, with sensitivity, solidarity and a little humour to keep the mood light. Yes, the kids are all right but the movie is even better.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Black Sheep's Blu-Tuesday

There aren't a lot of high profile releases today but what is coming out makes me very excited so we will get to them after a quick run down of this week's newly announced Blu-ray releases.  Two Humphrey Bogart classics come from Warner Bros. on October 5 - THE MALTESE FALCON and THE TREASURE OF SIERRE MADRE.  A couple more classics - Jean-Pierre Jeunet's DELICATESSEN and Carol Reed's 1949 thriller, THE THIRD MAN -  find homes on September 14.  And this last one is just a rumour right now but it would appear a complete GRINDHOUSE release is finally coming - including both Quentin Tarantino's DEATH PROOF, Robert Rodriguez's PLANET TERROR and all the trailers from the original theatrical presentation.

As for this week ...

If you haven't jumped on the Stieg Larsson book series yet, there is no better time to pick up this fantastic film.  The second in the series, THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, comes out in theatres this weekend and you don't want to be left behind.  (The Black Sheep review is coming this weekend too.)  I will warn you though; this is not an easy film to watch.  I'm slightly unclear really on how easily the book series is being devoured by so many people considering how graphic and dark the subject matter is.  That said, if you can stomach some intense violence against women, the insight you will take with you is well worth it.  Aside from being a great study in character and relationships, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (click to read full review) is an intriguing mystery that will grip you just as much as it will repulse you.  A challenge but well worth it!

This Tom Ford debut feature was sorely underrated last year during awards season.  Colin Firth was universally recognized  for his portrayal of George - a British, homosexual man dealing with the loss of his longtime lover in 1950's Los Angeles.  He earned his first Oscar nomination, took home the BAFTA and floored me for the first time in his career but there is also so much more to devour in A SINGLE MAN (click to read full review).  Julianne Moore's overlooked supporting role as a single woman is delicious.  And I have yet to tire of Abel Korzeniowski's moving and unforgettable score.  To say nothing of Dan Bishop's brilliant production design.  Ford has turned Christopher Isherwood's brilliant exploration of what it would be like to lose a lover instead of being left by one into an incredibly compelling argument for gay marriage rights without being the least bit preachy.  And in doing so in such a sensitive manner, he has crafted a  contemporary gay classic , worthy of being held up alongside Gus Van Sant's MILK and Ang Lee's BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN.  

ALSO NEW THIS WEEK: One could spend some time with BROOKLYN'S FINEST, starring Don Cheadle, but I have not heard anything fine about it.  If you're a Buster Keaton fan though, and I am, the charming and amusing, STEAMBOAT BILL JR. get the BD treatment.