Friday, August 28, 2009


Written by James Schamus
Directed by Ang Lee
Starring Demetri Martin, Imelda Staunton, Emile Hirsch, Live Schreiber and Eugene Levy

Max Yasgur: What do you think of the mess we’re making? Wonderful isn’t it?

Forty years have passed since the little town of Bethel, New York, took in over 500,000 hopped up hippies and, after three crazy days, became the definitive music festival known informally today as Woodstock. TAKING WOODSTOCK is the new film by two-time Academy-Award winner, Ang Lee. “Making Woodstock” would have been a much better title as essentially this is what Lee treats us to - an occasionally quirky but mostly uneventful backstage look at one of the biggest events in rock and roll history.

Down on his luck interior decorator, Elliot Teichberg (Comedy Central’s Demetri Martin in his first lead film role), was just spending another boring summer at his parents’ motel in the Catskills when his annual music festival suddenly went from records being played on the lawn with a few people on blankets to half a million people rolling around in the mud. Martin’s earnest face is pleasing enough to carry the film, his expressions going from wide-eyed and naïve to determined and brave, but James Schamus’s script reduces him to little more than a tour guide for the audience to tag along with from one expected obstacle to the next. Progressive theatre troupes run around naked while local citizens complain that their town has been taken over by degenerates. There was apparently very little insight to be found amongst all the drug-addled ramblings.

Lee attempts to weave equal parts peace and equal parts commodity into the Woodstock equation but he leaves out one of the most important parts, the music. At the time, the kids who never made it to the show just tripped out all weekend and had a plenty good time regardless. With no single concert scene to be seen though, Lee got me there but he left me cold sober and shivering in the mud.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Black Sheep Previews: TIFF 2009 (part two)

Another day has passed and I still haven't heard back from the wonderful people at TIFF as to whether or not they intend to accredit me for this year's festival. I sure hope they do. I would love to see Steven Soderbergh's THE INFORMANT or Drew Barrymore's WHIP IT or Jason Reitman's UP IN THE AIR. In the meantime though, I will focus my energies on the films I actually might be able to catch through the graciousness of Alliance films. Alliance has a strong showing at this year's festival and today, I will focus on the four that I am so excited to see: CAPITALISM: ALOVE STORY (Michael Moore), THE ROAD (John Hillcoat), A SERIOUS MAN (Joel and Ethan Coen) and YOUTH IN REVOLT (Miguel Arteta).

Directed by Michael Moore
Special Presentation

It's an important year for Mr. Moore. It is now 20 years that he has been making movies and rewriting what it means to make a documentary. And he has decided to tackle a topic this time out that is very close to America's heart and, more importantly, their wallets, the economy. Moore actually embarked on his criticism of America's love for capitalism before the economic downturn last fall so maybe, when he's done making movies, he can embark on a new career as a psychic.

Directed by John Hillcoat
Starring: Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron
Special Presentation

THE ROAD, based on the Corman McCarthy (NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN) novel about a post-apocalyptic struggle for one family, was scheduled to be released last year but was pushed back a whole year for more fine tuning and to avoid an already cluttered awards season. Apparently, the hard work has paid off as the cinematography and art direction are already being buzzed about. This is to be the thinking man's apocalypse movie.

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring: Michael Stuhlbarg

Last year, the Coen brothers showed up at TIFF fresh off their Oscar win for NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN with BURN AFTER READING. It was the North American premiere and, aside from George Clooney, every cast member was present, from Brad Pitt to Tilda Swinton. This year, they return with what is being billed as their most personal story ever and they are doing it without any glitz. With no recognizable names in the cast, the Coen brothers have decided to let the story speak for itself.

Directed by Miguel Arteta
Starring: Michael Cera, Ray Liotta and Justin Long

I had a difficult time convincing friends of mine that Arteta's CHUCK & BUCK was one of the best films I had seen that year. It was an easier sell a couple of years later when he released THE GOOD GIRL, with Jennifer Aniston and Jake Gyllenhaal. His third feature film should prove to be his most wwell received as it stars not just one Michael Cera but two! Cera somehow splits into two personalities in order to win the love of a girl. I don't care how far fetched the premise is. I can't wait to see Cera play bad ass to his goody goody at the exact same time!

That's it for now. The schedule is online now at the Toronto International Film Festival website so get cracking. And if you're reading this and you happen to work in the media department at TIFF, call me!

Black Sheep Previews: TIFF 2009 (part one)

The full list of films expected to play at this year's Toronto International Film Festival is now online. The schedule comes later this week and the individual tickets go on sale September 4. I moved to Toronto this summer in order to be closer to the festival really. It is my intention to get in there any way I can and work my way up until I am running the whole show. Lofty? Perhaps. Impossible? Not at all. So far though, the trek has not been so productive. In the midst of my move, I missed the deadline to apply for media accreditation. The good folks at TIFF allowed me to submit anyway but I still have yet to hear back from them. They assure me I will hear soon enough and I figure if I write a bit more about them, the answer will be positive and come sooner than later. I'm willing to try anything here.

I do have access to a few of the films on the roster through film companies that have embraced Black Sheep already - primarily, Maple Pictures and Alliance. Just through these two companies, I have access to the following films and, if I am lucky, access to the stars and filmmakers. Here are the Maple films I am fairly certain I will be covering during TIFF this year. (Alliance will follow tomorrow.) I hope you will be as excited about them as I will.

Directed by Grant Heslov (GOODNIGHT AND GOOD LUCK)
Starring George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey
GALA Presentation

The TIFF website describes the film as a modern DR. STRANGELOVE, bringing war to absurd conclusions and inspiring hilarious results. If Heslov does anywhere near as well as the beautiful and effective Oscar-nominated GOODNIGHT AND GOOD LUCK, it is fair to say that he will have another awards contender on his hands. All the stars are expected at the festival, as is the director himself and the author of the book the film is based on, Jon Ronson.

Directed by Lee Daniels
Starring Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Paula Patton and Mariah Carey
GALA Presentation

This is one of the festival's most anticipated titles, even though it has been seen around the world already. It debuted at Sundance, where it won both the audience and critic's awards. It then went on to Cannes. It is expected to screen at the New York Film Festival in October but it makes its Canadian premiere first at TIFF. The film, about an obese teenager who is pregnant for the second time, is horrifically depressing on the surface but I hope incredibly inspiring by the finish. It captured the attention of Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, who are both distributing the film through their respective companies. All the stars, the filmmaker and even Winfrey and Perry are expected to be attending the festival. This is a serious Oscar contender! (side note: if i meet mariah carey, i may fall to the floor.)

Directed by Rebecca Miller
Starring Robin Wright Penn, Keanu Reeves, Alan Arkin and Winona Ryder
GALA Presentation

The TIFF website describes Pippa Lee as a woman who has surmounted so many obstacles in her life only to find herself still searching for her identity. Miller, wife to Daniel Day-Lewis and mother to his children, adapts her own novel here. This is also not her first directorial effort, having already helmed the sensitive films, THE BALLAD OF JACK AND ROSE and PERSONAL VELOCITY: THREE PORTRAITS. Wright-Penn has generated strong awards buzz for her part and she is expected to attend the festival with the director and her co-star, Reeves.

Directed by Scott Hicks
Starring Clive Owen
Special Presentation

Director, Scott Hicks, perhaps most famous for his directorial turn of SHINE, which won Geoffrey Rush a Best Actor Oscar, returns to TIFF with this touching tale of a husband (Owen) who loses his wife and has to learn to take care of not only the son he shared with her but the son he left behind from a previous marriage. Like most festival fare, there is some awards hopeful buzz expected and it belongs to Owen here, who has been nominated once before for his role in Mike Nichols's CLOSER. Both Owen and Hicks are expected to attend.

Tomorrow, Black Sheep will take a look at what he hopes to catch through Alliance Films. In the meantime, he will hold his breath until TIFF confirms his accreditation. On second thought though, finger crossing might be the healthier option there.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Black Sheep @ The Box Office: Glorious Box Office Basterds

There wasn't much question as to whether Quentin Tarantino's INGLORIOUS BASTERDS would debut atop the box office this weekend. It's stiffest competition going in was DISTRICT 9, leftover from last weekend. No, the question was how well it would do and it has done very well. With a well-deserved R-rating, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS nailed down a per screen average of nearly $12K for a grand total of over $37 million. This is Tarantino's highest opening weekend ever, easily besting the former record holder, KILL BILL VOLUME 2, with $25 million. Depending on how it performs in the weeks to come, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS could easily surpass PULP FICTION ($107.9 million) as Tarantino most success film of his career. It was definite redemption for the filmmaker, whose last film, the DEATHPROOF portion of the GRINDHOUSE double bill opened to a miserable $11.6 million. The second film in the GRINDHOUSE set was directed by Robert Rodriguez, whose SHORTS, posted disappointing results this week, landing in 6th place. I thought the kid friendly pic would do well with little competition in sight but it must be time for kids to think about going back to school instead of crazy wishing stones. The only other Top 10 debut went to the Alexis Bliedl vehicle, POST GRAD, which, coming in tenth place, barely passed the final exam. Female driven pics continue to hold well, from THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE, THE UGLY TRUTH and JULIE & JULIA, all posting declines under 30%. The near 60% decline is probably a little disappointing to the DISTRICT 9 people considering the phenomenal word of mouth it has generated. It won't stop the two greenlit sequels though. Outside the Top 10, ADAM saw a 22% jump after adding 29 screens but the big success story belongs to Renee Zellwegger whose period comedy, MY ONE AND ONLY, opened to the best per screen average of any film this week, with a $15K average.

NEXT WEEK: Ang Lee gets the jump on everyone else, opening his lovefest, TAKING WOODSTOCK on two screens on Wednesday before bumping to over 1000 screens on Friday. Outside of that I hope you like horror because your only new options are Rob Zombie's HALLOWEEN 2 (3000 screens) and THE FINAL DESTINATION (3000 screens), the supposed last in the series and the first in 3D.


Saturday, August 22, 2009


Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Starring Bard Pitt, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger, Michael Fassbender, Christoph Waltz and Melanie Laurent

Col. Hans Landa: What a tremendously hostile world that a rat must endure. Yet not only does he survive, he thrives. And that, Monsieur, is what a Jew shares with a rat.

This might sound odd at first but bear with me. Without giving anything away, the final shot of Quentin Tarantino’s sixth film, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS – this is where I need you to bear – shows two characters looking directly into the camera and one declares to the other that this may be his best work yet. It’s just another one of those cheeky Tarantino moments we, that is “we” as in fans of his work, have come to expect and relish in his mostly masterful works. There are times though when a moment like this one ceases to be witty and serves only to allow Tarantino’s gigantic ego to overpower his usually inspired words. This is precisely one of those moments for me. Seeing this, or rather hearing this, did not make me want to stand up and cheer to show how desperately I agree with his assessment of his own work. Instead, it gave me slight pause and allowed me to remove my Tarantino-tinged glasses and ask, “Really, Quentin? You think this is your best work?”

INGLORIOUS BASTERDS opens and is almost instantly a parody of itself and Tarantino’s previous work. I can’t say this for certain but I don’t think this was his intention. A dramatic spaghetti western score plays over the bold-faced, colorful credits and you watch to see which obscure actors Tarantino handpicked to pop up at pivotal moments (in this case, Mike Myers as British military officer) and more importantly, to see how Tarantino will bill his own credit (in this case, the surprisingly humble, “A film by”). And then the title announces that we are about to witness “Chapter One”, just as we did in KILL BILL. There is nothing wrong with adapting a similar structure for your films to distinguish your style – heck, Woody Allen does it all the time – but, while Allen’s touches are understated, Tarantino’s tone is so distinct and loud that it borders more on bravado than brilliance. Seeing as how the story hasn’t even started at this point, it feels as though he has already shot himself in the foot.

At a 2½ hour running time though, it is hardly fair to judge the film based solely on its opening credits. What follows is a scene that justifies and gives some much needed context to the film’s obnoxious marketing campaign – You haven’t seen a WWII movie if you haven’t seen Tarantino do it (or something relatively like that). It is no secret that Tarantino likes to hear himself speak. His scenes go on far longer than most other directors would allow and the dialogue wraps around itself so many times that it’s a small miracle that his players don’t get dizzy when they stand up. And while this is all play when you have a bunch of guys sitting around a table debating the meaning of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”, it is something else entirely when the scene involves an SS officer known as “The Jew Hunter” and a French farmer suspected to be hiding a Jewish family in his home. The longer it goes on, the more tense it becomes and by the time it inevitably turns violent, Tarantino takes no prisoners, just like the Nazis. The style flows about as abundantly and as smoothly as the Nazi blood for the rest of the run time.

At times, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS seems unfocused and overtly gratuitous, even by Tarantino’s standards. (When Brad Pitt’s Aldo Raine declares that he wants his scalps, he isn’t kidding.) While it is technically fantastic (safe for a continuity error with Pitt’s unfastened bow tie at one point that I can’t believe Tarantino didn’t notice) and also deeply engrossing, it is the liberties with history that just don’t sit too well with me. During a chilling climax, there are so many dying Nazis surrounded by burning swastika banners that one can practically feel Tarantino watching from the wings to see just how uproarious the cheers from the audience will be. It is hard to cheer though when you know that none of this happened really, that we are being manipulated as an audience to revel in this alternate reality where the doers of one of history’s greatest evils, get what they deserve, Tarantino style. This is especially true when what really happened was already horrific enough.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Black Sheep Previews: AVATAR

Who says you have to rush genius? It only took Academy Award winning director, James Cameron, 12 years to conceive of, develop and complete his latest project, AVATAR. And from the deafening buzz of the now ever powerful geek community, you would think this film was going to be bigger than TITANIC, coincidentally Cameron's last film offering and the most successful film of all time both domestically and internationally. While it will not have the benefit of carrying over all of the TITANIC fanatics given the genre, AVATAR will excite longtime Cameron fans who may have considered TITANIC to be too sappy compared with his earlier work, like the first two TERMINATOR films and THE ABYSS. But will AVATAR be worth the wait? The teaser has just been released and stylistically, it certainly looks fresh and crisp. After 12 years, you are not allowed to give the world sloppy. Will cinematic perfection be enough to pull audiences in though? Very little is known about AVATAR; in fact almost nothing was known before this trailer finally appeared online. What is known is that it stars hot commodities, Sam Worthington (TERMINATOR SALVATION), Zoe Saldana (STAR TREK) and Sigourney Weaver reuniting with Cameron for the first time since ALIENS and that a human army must fight with the indigenous people of another planet. I don't even know why they must fight but this is the conflict. It comes out December 18 and has no competition that weekend, other than that pesky holiday the following weekend and all the last minute preparations that are usually saved for this particular weekend. Also, it is reported that the film cost just under $200 million to make. Mind you, the last time Cameron spent a fortune and oft delayed his film, it went on to win a ton of accolades and become the biggest film in history. That said, if anyone can turn this into gold, it would be him, but I'm just not sold on that yet. Anyone want to place some bets? Here's the teaser ...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Written by Bruce Joel Rubin
Directed by Robert Schwentke
Starring Eric Bana, Rachel McAdams and Ron Livingston

Time travel is certainly not an easy concept to buy. There are a number of theories that can make some plausible sense if explained and backed up thoroughly but it is, for now, a romanticized notion designed by the human mind to free ourselves from having to commit to anything. Oddly enough, over-romanticizing time travel does nothing to further its argument, at least not on screen. I’ve not read it but I feel THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE would have done time travel itself a little more justice as a novel than it does in Robert Schwentke’s film. On the page, one can use their imagination; in fact, one must. On screen, all the imagining is done for you and in this case, it is not a pretty picture.

Eric Bana plays Henry, the time traveler and Rachel McAdams plays Clare, the wife. When he is in his forties, Henry travels back in time and meets Clare as a young girl in a field. She grows up knowing all the while that her destiny is predetermined and with him. When Henry meets her in the present, he hasn’t gone back to the past yet so he must love without the certainty she has that it will all work out. While this is ripe with possibly new perspectives on love and what it would mean if we knew it was all worth it, it amounts to very little more than a lot of explanation and a bunch of sappy looks exchanged between Bana and McAdams.

As facile as this sounds, I wish I could travel back in time so that I could stop myself from seeing this movie. At least Bana is constantly naked throughout because he can’t bring his clothes with him when he travels. I guess that makes it not a total waste of time.

Monday, August 17, 2009


Written and directed by Max Mayer
Starring Hugh Dancy, Rose Byrne, Peter Callagher, Frankie Faisan and Amy Iving

Harlan: Liars are all you’re going to come across in this world. A man’s gotta learn the difference between plain liars and liars worth loving.

When you first hear it, it sounds like a joke. How can anyone possibly have something called “ass burger” syndrome? Then you will be politely corrected as it is actually called “Asperger syndrome” and it has absolutely nothing to do with anyone’s buttocks. Its unfortunate name aside, the syndrome itself stems from the autism spectrum but those who live with AS do not suffer the same cognitive development limitations as those with autism. AS is also at the center of a new quirky romance called ADAM, in which the lead character for which the movie is named after has AS. This is where the trouble starts. As AS is not commonly known, ADAM must spend some time explaining itself. Furthermore, as AS is not commonly known, the filmmakers could take certain liberties if they felt like it to manipulate the audience into feeling sorry for Adam in hopes no one educated would notice. Thanks to writer/director, Max Mayer, though, ADAM rises above all of this to simply become a tender and touching love story that will leave your head in the stars.

When we meet Adam, (Hugh Dancy), he has just lost his father, whom he lived with. People with AS don’t deal with change very well. They like knowing what is waiting for them, whether that means the same thing for breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday or whether that means having a father in your life to make your difficult social interactions manageable. For Adam, there are two particularly frightening changes in his life outside of the loss of his father. The first is that he must find a new job or leave the New York apartment he has known for years, as he cannot afford the mortgage without his father. The second is Beth (Rose Byrne), the pretty new girl who just moved into his building and who clearly thinks Adam is cute. Beth mistakes Adam’s difficulties as every day shyness and a courtship ensues. This begs the question, when is the right time to tell the girl you like that you’re not just awkward and that there’s a very good reason why you never look her in the eye?

ADAM does explain here and there what is going on and why but it is mostly done visually through the endearing Hugh Dancy. Dancy carries weighted tension in his posture and beams with exuberance when he is talking about space, his favorite subject. Not unlike any human being who has difficulty getting close to another, Adam struggles with intimacy and letting go of the habits he has grown accustomed to in his solitary life. Dancy plays Adam like a prisoner set free for the very first time. His longing to be an equal part of life and this relationship – one that I must point out is delicately balanced with Beth and never seen from her perspective as one based on pity for Adam or Beth’s own loneliness and insecurity – is evident on his face and his frustration that he cannot just make it happen smoothly is heartbreaking. Dancy’s performance is humble and selfless as his aggravation is always clearly out of a desire to make Beth happier rather than himself.

Predominantly, AS makes it nearly impossible to assess what the people standing right in front of them are thinking. Forget sarcasm; that sense of humour goes right over their heads (just as that sentence would). They experience what is referred to as mind blindness, which is to say that they presume you are thinking the same thing they are. Is it me or haven’t you found yourself in the same place dozens of times over while trying to figure your dates out? ADAM exudes compassion but never begs for that compassion to be given to this man just because he has AS. Rather the compassion it inspires is for all who pursue love despite its many obstacles by reminding us that it might not be any easier, but it might be more genuine if we all just said what we were really thinking.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Black Sheep @ The Box Office: Alien Invasion

My apologies, Black Sheep readers. I am under the weather and therefore, will not be doing a full box office report this week. In fact, I have an eye infection and it won't go away. I've been taking drops all week for it and yet I still look like the dude from DISTRICT 9. When people ask me in public what's wrong with my eye, I simply tell them I'm a really big fan of the movie. Anyway, my support seems to have paid off as DISTRICT 9 has surpassed expectations and debuted atop the top of the box office, taking G.I. JOE down to second place with a somewhat reasonable 58% drop. JULIE AND JULIA held up well in its second week, which is even more impressive when you think about all the ladies who rushed off to see Eric Bana romance Rachel McAdams in THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE. The film, which will get the Black Sheep treatment later this week, pulled in a respectable start but will now depend on word of mouth. (500) DAYS OF SUMMER squeaked out another week it the Top 10 while Summit hopeful, BANDSLAM couldn't cut it, pulling $2.25 million for a 13th place finish. I guess those NEW MOON teasers before the screenings were not enough to lure in the kids. THE GOODS did not deliver in sixth place and PONYO, from Academy Award winning Japanese director, Hayao Miyazaki, which I saw and loved this afternoon, debuted to mediocre numbers in ninth place despite rave reviews. Look for reviews this week for, as mentioned previously, THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE, ADAM and later in the week, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS. Oh, and happy birthday to James Cameron and Madonna!

Source: Box Office Mojo

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Remembering the year 2004

I’m a sensitive guy but I don’t cry very often. Usually, the only time I find myself crying is at the movies. For me, crying is a beautiful release and when I’m watching a movie and it comes over me, I always let it out. I figure if the hard parts of my life don’t bring me to tears, then I’d better let them out whenever the opportunity presents itself, even if I’m not completely sure what it is about the image on the screen that is moving me so deeply. When I first saw FINDING NEVERLAND, it was a matinee showing. There weren’t too many people in the theatre and that suited me just fine. This way, I got to sob profusely while still maintaining some sense of privacy. When the film was released to own, I brought it home and, to my surprise, cried just as much as I did the first time I saw it. When I watched it again recently to prepare for this piece, I was concerned, at first, that it wasn’t as good as I remembered it in my mind. But then, before I could get across the room to get my box of tissues, I was weeping once again.

Based on Allan Knee’s play, “The Man Who Was Peter Pan”, FINDING NEVERLAND is something of a tear-jerker that seems deliberately designed for boys. This is Peter Pan after all and what man cannot identify with the age old tale about not wanting to ever grow up? Certainly not this one anyway. That said, I don’t think this is what gets me crying each time; that would be too simple an explanation. No, it is something inherent in the story itself that speaks directly to this boy’s heart. FINDING NEVERLAND is a story about feeling inspiration and fostering your imagination. Without either of these, Neverland could never be found. James Barrie (Johnny Depp) is the author of “Peter Pan” and the film gives us the chance to see the very real components that would become one of the most timeless children’s classics in history. As a writer, especially one who struggles to find the words from time to time, seeing that they can come from everything transpiring right in front of me was truly freeing.

Historically, Barrie met the Llewelyn Davies family in London’s Kensington Gardens in 1897. In the film, it unfolds exactly the same way, only the man of the family, Arthur, has already passed away and, of the family’s five young boys, only four make the film for fear of overcrowding. The mother, Sylvia (Kate Winslet), is simply enjoying her time in the park with her boys when Barrie suddenly becomes a central figure in the boys’ game. From that moment on, he never stops playing with them. It isn’t quite so joyous for all the boys though, what with their father recently passed. No, young Peter (played by Freddie Highmore in the role that turned him into a child star) finds himself facing adult realities that are far too harsh for him to process, let alone preserve his innocence. Barrie steps in as a father figure but the healing does not begin so easily. Barrie must remind the boys that their imaginations can take them anywhere they want to go, any time they want to go there. As he unleashes the power of his imagination in hopes of rekindling theirs, he finds something completely unexpected – Peter Pan.

Director, Marc Forster, whom I have a love/hate relationship with (basically, I love this film and hate most of his other work), does his best to do to his audience that which Barrie is determined to do for his lost boys. FINDING NEVERLAND flows back and forth between scenes of hardship (loveless marriages, financial woes and terminal illness) and magical escapes, from pirate ships in the backyard to children bouncing from their beds and taking flight. “Neverland” is a place where one never has to grow up and it is always just on the other side of our conscious minds waiting for us to visit whenever we need to or just plain feel like it. All any of us has to do to find it is believe that it is there. At no time does it feel like FINDING NEVERLAND is encouraging us to ignore our responsibilities so that we can play whenever we want. It is quite the contrary really. Forster and friends are just trying to help us find it in ourselves so that it can help us get through all the tears.

Black Sheep's 2004 Top 10
(in alphabetical order)

BAD EDUCATION, directed by Pedro Almodovar
KILL BILL VOLUME 2, Quentin Tarantino
TARNATION, Jonathan Caouette
VERA DRAKE, Mike Leigh

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
Directed by Neill Blomkamp
Starring Sharlto Copley

28 years ago, an alien space craft resembling a floating, metal land mass appeared in Africa, just over Johannesburg. The world held its breath, not sure what to expect next – a beginning or an end. The ship’s passengers were not as alien as one would expect. They stood upright, had offspring and, as it would come to be discovered with time, harboured as much fear inside of them as man likes to pretend he doesn’t. Whatever brought them to our planet left their energy supplies depleted and their systems inoperable. Stranded here and at the mercy of man, the aliens struck what they believed to be a peaceful arrangement with the world’s governments and were housed in shacks in a segregated space designated as District 9. To imagine this description as our actual world is almost ludicrous when the words are just being read on a page. The beauty of Neill Blomkamp’s first feature, DISTRICT 9, though, is that he creates and fosters this scenario as a reality that does not only seem plausible but more so as one that actually happened. I almost expected a whole other world to be waiting for me outside the theatre when the film was done.

In 2005, Blomkamp’s short film, ALIVE IN JOBURG, caught the attention of the Internet and one key man in particular, Peter Jackson. Seeing just how stunning the visuals could be and how rich the subject was, Jackson put $30 million down to allow Blomkamp to make whatever he wanted. He wanted to make his short into a feature. Blomkamp has been passionate about this project ever since he was a boy, growing up in South Africa during apartheid. Although not widespread to all racial groups as in Africa between 1948 and 1994, Blomkamp’s version keeps the aliens and the humans separated and, as with any class system, there is hatred, animosity and mixing between the groups. DISTRICT 9 is a pastiche of different film captures, from news footage to security cameras in stairwells to helicopter shots. All blend seamlessly together to not only form a stunning aesthetic but the documentary style, including talking head inserts from authorities on the alien plight, cements Blomkamp’s world in our own. The believability factor is what makes the injustices against the alien race so repugnant.

DISTRICT 9 directly implicates the viewer as a passive observer and forces you to take sides. Realistically, we aren’t there; we cannot say what we would do but we still cannot help feel the same fears. To be alien is to be foreign and, as a species, we certainly struggle with accepting that which is different than ourselves, even within our own species. To make matters worse, these aliens, while fascinating to watch from a CGI perspective, are not exactly pleasant to look at. They are lanky creatures with numerous tentacles and limbs that are so vividly constructed that one can almost imagine they smell as rotten as they look. As one could presume, an alien ship hovering over the earth for nearly three decades and 1.8 million aliens, though contained, living on this planet, would make even the open-minded uncomfortable to some degree. There are many alien interest groups established to protect the aliens’ rights but it almost seems naïve to think they do not pose some level of threat against humanity. And as it becomes more and more clear as the film goes on that humanity poses a bigger threat against them, you become torn between sympathy and preservation.

At the center of DISTRICT 9 is a nobody turned into the greatest somebody on the planet overnight, Wikus Van De Merwe (played poignantly by non-professional actor, Sharlto Copley, who appeared briefly in ALIVE IN JOBURG). Wikus, a government employee in charge of serving all the aliens of District 9 with eviction papers before they are moved to a much more deplorable camp, is a bit of a goof who thinks he’s got it all figured out until he is forced to walk in an alien’s shoes (if aliens actually wore shoes, that is). It is only then that he can see humanity for the recklessly greedy creatures that they are. And as Blomkamp puts us directly in Wikus’s shoes, we too get the mirror turned on our own faces. It sounds bleak but it is by far the most fun I’ve had at the movies all summer, if not all year.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Written by Charlene Yi and Nicolas Jasenovic
Directed by Nicolas Jasenovic
Starring: Charlene Yi, Michael Cera and Jake Johnson

Charlene: Are you looking for love?
Random passerby: No, I'm pretty content, thanks.

In the first few moments of the inevitably quirky romantic mockumentary (there’s a new sub-genre for you), musician/writer/comedian/actress, Charlene Yi, asks random passersby if they believe in love. One likens love to Santa Claus but most just pass her by. Yi interprets this to mean that love, which has always managed to elude her personally, may in fact not exist. That would certainly fit the intended theme of her film (Yi co-wrote and co-produced the film) but if any of these fleeing interview subjects are anything like me, maybe it was not the question that they were uncomfortable with but the person asking.

No, I am not Yi’s biggest fan. She is awkward to the point where it makes those around her feel just as much out of place, if not more so. This doesn’t come out on screen but I have a hard time falling for people who almost seem to be going out of their way to not fit in. Whatever the reason, Yi has yet to know the pleasures and the pains that only love can provide and, along with co-writer and director, Nicolas Jasenovic (who is played by Jake Johnson in the film), she sets out across the United States to ask whomever she can about love in hopes of making it all seem possible once again.

Along the way, Yi meets real-life boyfriend, Michael Cera, and the two fall for each other before our eyes. Yi may not be able to recognize it as love but those of us sitting and watching will know it when we see it. And though I may have been skeptical of the host at first, I found myself coming around at pretty much the same time she realizes she too may have been wrong all along.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

BLU-TUESDAY ... August 11

It’s been a bit since I detailed what was coming out on BD. This might be because I don’t like to think about all the lovely movies I cannot afford to buy, my not currently having a job and all. This week poses a bit of a challenge though as there are a couple I’d definitely like to add to my collection. In case you weren’t aware, ICHI THE KILLER, ST. ELMO’S FIRE and THE NINTH GATE are all making their BD debuts today. You can even get yourself the big Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles box set on BD, including all three live action films as well as the underrated TMNT animated film from a couple years back. Those aren’t the ones that are doing it for me. No, my sights are set on I LOVE YOU, MAN, 17 AGAIN and the Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, THE CLASS.

OK, I don’t want to buy 17 AGAIN but I will definitely be heading out to my local video shop bright and early to take it home for the evening. I missed this one in theatres and, to be fair, I missed it on purpose. The trouble is that I fell in love with Zac Efron some time shortly after that and now I don’t care how bad it is going to be; I just want to see those abs in high definition.

- Outtakes
- Zac’s dance flashback (whatever that is supposed to be)
- Unseen additional footage

I did not review this film when it was in theatres but I did catch it. Paul Rudd and Jason Segel are perfect together in this, the latest bromance to show us that there can be some serious love between straight men and that that can lead to some serious laughs. This is the film that finally made Paul Rudd into the leading man he’s always been destined to be and hopefully, we will see plenty more of him from here on in. If you need more Paul Rudd love right now, be sure to check out Black Sheep’s feature, I LOVE YOU, PAUL RUDD.

- Commentary track with director, John Hamburg and Rudd & Segel
- Making of
- Extended/Deleted scenes
- Gag reel / Improv reel
- Red band trailer

This was hands down one of my favorite movies from 2008. I have yet to catch DEPARTURES but it was a shock to me when the Japanese film beat out THE CLASS at the Oscars this year. THE CLASS exposes the state of the education system today by making it seem real and by making it human. It is shot like a documentary but this is the fictionalized version of writer/star, Francois Begaudeau’s life. If his real life, which the film is based on, is anywhere near as chaotic, I certainly do not envy him. THE CLASS is truly a masterpiece and not to be missed.

- Making of
- Commentary on select scenes
- Actor workshops and portraits