Thursday, April 29, 2010

Black Sheep previews Hot Docs 2010

While Black Sheep is not going to be covering the 2010 Toronto Hot Docs film festival directly, it is still our great pleasure to preview some of the titles that will be featured this year.  Founded in 1993, the Hot Docs festival is committed to presenting over 150 of the best documentaries floating around the festival circuit.  This year is no exception as the festival showcases docs from directors as famous as Steven Soderbergh and Alex Gibney, as well as giving voice to local filmmakers and marginalized filmmakers the world over.  As is true with the documentary approach itself, Hot Docs is interested in the truth in its purest form and that is what you will get.

Even though I cannot attend the festival as much as I’d like to, the festival organizers were kind enough to send me a bunch of screeners to help you weed through what may or may not be great in this year’s 11-day festival schedule.  And so begins Black Sheep’s Hot Docs 2010 Preview …

Directed by Thomas Balmes
Screenings: Thursday, April 29, 6:30 PM, Wintergarden Theatre
Friday, April 30, 1:45 PM, Isabel Bader Theatre

It is no fun to start off a preview with an unfavourable review for the opening film, especially when that film is about the world’s most precious resource, babies.  The trailer for this BABIES, which has a theatrical run scheduled for May 7, is adorable.  I found the film itself insufferable though, which might mean I have no soul.  I realize what a monster that makes me sound like but I’m really not.  I just don’t see the point in following around four newborns in four very different locations throughout the world when, if I want to see a baby just being cute, I can visit any number of my friends.  It's like watching BARAKA with babies, except nowhere near as striking and nowhere near as effective.  It’s just kids being kids with no outside explanation as to why we’re watching.  After about ten minutes, these babies get pretty tired and you remember fairly quickly why you stopped babysitting years ago.  It did give me concern though; if I couldn’t handle these babies for an hour and twenty minutes, how am I going to handle my own at some point?

Directed by Tomer Heymann
Screenings: Tuesday, May 4, 7:30 PM, The Royal Cinema
Thursday, May 6, 4:15 PM, Cumberland

Tomer Heymann found some great appreciation after his last documentary, PAPER DOLLS, about a group of Filipino transvestites who emigrate to Israel to take care of old Jewish men, was honoured at the Berlin International Film Festival, picking up both audience and jury prizes alike.  For his follow up project, Heymann decided to turn the camera on himself or, more accurately, on those that he loves.  He meets Andreas Merk, a German dancer one night while he is in Berlin for the festival and they fall in love.  He spends the next while filming that process by keeping the camera on his boyfriend and asking him leading questions that are clearly meant to spark a big debate about how complicated their relationship should be considering he’s Jewish and Andreas is German.  Thankfully, Andreas is cute and fun to watch but I SHOT MY LOVE rarely feels genuine, which means the love he supposedly shot rarely comes through.

Directed by John Kastner
Screenings: Saturday, May 1, 9:45 PM, Isabel Bader Theatre
Sunday, May 9, 3:45 PM, Bloor Cinema

Of all the screeners I was sent for this festival, this was the one I put off to the end.  It was the longest, first of all, which makes me sound incredibly lazy but hey.  It was also the most potentially depressing of the bunch.  LIFE WITH MURDER tells the story of a Chatham, Ontario family torn apart by a chilling tragedy.  Mom and Dad come home to find their daughter murdered and their son missing.  Soon enough, it becomes clear that their son may have killed their daughter.  He is arrested, tried and convicted of the murder but yet his parents never leave his side.  This film forces you to think hard about family and forgiveness but never lets you ignore the possibility of misplaced trust and the dangers of blind faith.  Having been too young to remember this case in the news, watching the details be revealed in this film horrified me.  It is not an easy experience but still a brilliant one. 

Directed by Mike Hoolboom
Screenings: Saturday, May 1, 9:45 PM, The Royal Cinema
Sunday, May 9, 9:30 PM, Isabel Bader Theatre

I’m new to Toronto but I imagine that there will be a strong amount of local interest in MARK, a sensitive and touching portrait of now deceased activist, Mark Karbusicky.  Without any previous knowledge of who Mark was, it is pretty easy to understand why people loved him – and love him they did.  By piecing together childhood photographs, found footage and interviews with friends and loved ones, director, Mike Hoolboom, is able to create a palpable sense of who Mark was and what he valued.  I can’t be certain whether it was Hoolboom’s intention to leave the details of why Mark killed himself vague but the result is that we spend more time focusing on his life than his death, which is more honourable anyway.  MARK presents a handful of very real people with very real emotions that stay with you and make you wish you had been lucky enough to know Mark too.

Directed by Garry Beitel
Screenings: Sunday, May 2, 9:15, Bloor Cinema
Tuesday, May 4, 11:30 AM, ROM Theatre

This one is particularly difficult to describe.  I lived in Montreal my whole life and I never heard of this guy.  After seeing Garry Beitel’s NFB production, THE “SOCALLED MOVIE”, I wish I had heard of him a long time ago.  The guy I’m talking about is a man by the name of Josh Dolgin, who goes by the moniker, “Socalled”.  Dolgin is 32, gay and Jewish, and he spends his days as either a hip-hop artist, a filmmaker or a magician.  The music he creates is a blend of funk, hip-hop and klesmer music and he brings it to people everywhere who want to transcend the cultural limitations of the music while still appreciating the history these cultures bring.  He is pretty direct about how he is more a behind the scenes guy than anything else but it is his undeniable genius and incredible drive that propel him inevitably to the forefront of everything he does.  And why does he do it?  Simply put, because he can.  We should all try because we can is how he sees it.  And speaking of seeing it, you all should definitely see THE “SOCALLED MOVIE”.

Directed by Nicolas Sherman
Screenings: Sunday, May 2, 6:45, ROM Theatre
Tuesday, May 4, 4:30 PM, Cumberland
Sunday, May 9, 4:00, Innis Town Hall

Gordon Hempton needs you to be very quiet.  He has unheard wonders of beauty just waiting to share with you but you first need to learn how to actually hear them.  Don’t be concerned that you may not be able to.  Even Hempton himself didn’t learn to hear properly until he was 27.  It’s not that he had any hearing disabilities; no, it was rather an inability to be still and truly just listen.  SOUNDTRACKER, tracks Hempton, a professional nature sound recordist, on one of his sound journeys.  Director, Nicolas Sherman faced the difficult task of making a movie about sound.  He needed to allow the time for the audience to take in all the layers of Hempton’s discovered soundscapes without sacrificing the image or his own artistic expression.  And just like the delicate balance between the song of a bird and a passing whistle-blowing train – the symphony we follow Hempton in hopes to find – Sherman finds the perfect sweet spot.

Well, that's all I have, preview-wise, that is.  Before I go though, I would like to mention that the National Film Board of Canada has decided to make their collection of over 5500 films completely available for free to screen at the NFB Mediatheque, as of May 1.  This great offer applies to both the Toronto and Montreal locations and should be taken advantage of as often as possible.  The timing could not be better for tourists in Toronto for Hot Docs so don't miss out.  The NFB Mediatheque in Toronto is located at 150 John Street, just near the Scotiabank Theatre.

Enjoy Hot Docs everybody!
For tickets, just click the Hot Docs link.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Black Sheep's Blu-Tuesday

By now, we've all heard about the crazy records James Cameron's AVATAR broke last week when it debuted conveniently on Earth Day, as though Cameron actually cared about the planet.  I mean, if he had allowed a portion of each AVATAR copy sold to go toward some form of environmental cause, I might feel differently about it but sadly, that isn't the case.  Instead the film sold 1.5 million copies on BD alone, over million when you consider DVD's.  That easily smashed the 600K first week sales of THE DARK KNIGHT from last holiday season.  And all this without any serious extras on it and no 3D.  I feel like AVATAR is one of those phenomenon titles that people just buy without thinking because everyone's gotta have it and then leave on their shelves forever.  One thing is for certain though, no title being releases this week will come anywhere near matching those sales figures.

This mature comedy is pure Hollywood cliche at times but also comedy gold at others.  It reminds me of DATE NIGHT in the sense that you know what you are watching is ridiculous and exaggerated and  you also know exactly where things will end up at all times but it doesn't matter.  The casts, in both cases, shine so bright that you just can't help but laugh and laugh loud.  In case you don't know the plot, Meryl Streep takes up with her ex-husband (Alec Baldwin) while starting a new relationship with her architect (Steve Martin).  It is also no coincidence that IT'S COMPLICATED is being released just before Mother's Day.  My mother will have already bought it by then but you can get it for yours.  Mothers love Meryl Streep!  And I loved watching Meryl Streep get stoned out of her head.

I have to be honest; I have not seen this Terry Gilliam film and I seriously don't have any intentions of seeing it either.  Sure, it looks like a visual mind trip and has the potential to be a lot of fun but I just can't bring myself to watch Heath Ledger's final performance, especially considering it was unfinished at the time of his death.  I don't want to creep you out.  You should watch it and let me know if it is worth it or not.  It was nominated for Art Direction and Costume Design at this year's Oscars after all.  And the BD release has a ton of goodies, including feature commentary, deleted scenes and a few featurettes, including one about Ledger.  I just prefer to remember Ledger's last completed performance as the Joker in the THE DARK KNIGHT instead.  My apologies, Mr. Gilliam.


A whole slew of back catalog titles make their first appearances on BD including the late Sydney Pollack's OUT OF AFRICA, starring of course, Meryl Streep.  Little seen Ang Lee film, RIDE WITH THE DEVIL gets the Criterion experience.  And both the overwhelmingly beautiful ELIZABETH and generally underwhelming ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE can be brought home for your royal enjoyment.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Black Sheep @ The Box Office

Not to take away from the great and rare feat that HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON accomplished this weekend by returning to the number one spot in its fifth week of release but what a boring weekend at the box office it is regardless.  It hardly even seems worth reporting.  You know what?  I'm not really going to report that much so there! Let's see .. we know the dragon movie is back at number one; what else? Jennifer Lopez tried and failed to revive her film career with THE BACK-UP PLAN opening to disappointing results in second.  Good thing she has that dying singing career as a back-up plan of her own. THE LOSERS lived up to their name, landing hard in fourth place.  Disney Nature's OCEANS had the highest per screen average of all the Top 10 but also opened about $3 million lower than EARTH did last year.  Still, this is the third best opening for a documentary all the same.  Below the Top 10, Foreign Language Oscar winner, THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES continued to perform well, improving over 125% after adding another 23 screens to its run.  There .. that's all you get.

NEXT WEEK: There is absolutely nothing coming out next week that I know of that I am excited about seeing but you might be happy to see A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET slash its way back onto 3150+ screens.  If you prefer your nightmares a little furrier, there is always Brendan Fraser in FURRY VENGEANCE playing on 2800+ screens.  If that doesn't keep you awake at night, I don't know what will.


Saturday, April 24, 2010


Written and Directed by Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud
Narrated by Pierce Brosnan

Narrator: Down here, it’s like nature has given everything a try.

I’ve never been particularly fascinated with the vast bodies of water known as the planet’s oceans. Sit me in a movie theatre though and immerse me in one of those bodies on the big screen and I may as well be a fish, because I won’t want to get out of the water. Disney Nature’s second environmentally friendly documentary in their Earth Day series, entitled OCEANS, sets out to do just that – to take the viewer by the hand and guide them through these foreign, fantastical waters so that all who take the plunge, emerge knowing that much more about how it feels to be a fish these days.

OCEANS, like any Disney film, is interested in making sure that everyone who sees it is enjoying themselves. When that approach applies to a documentary, it means ensuring that every child that sits in those theatre seats is taken in enough by what they see, so that they sit still in those seats until the credits roll. To do this, directors, Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud – no strangers to nature films themselves, after collaborating on 2001’s WINGED MIGRATION, a documentary about migratory patterns – place the viewer in the mind of a child, focusing more on who lives in the ocean instead of the ocean itself. Why go on incessantly about oceanic statistics when you can simply just sit in wonder and awe of every unbelievable image you see unfold? Even narrator, Pierce Brosnan, speaks in a slow, soothing tone throughout, careful to balance the drifting attention of a child without insulting the intelligence of the adults who brought them.

Striking that balance can be tricky but Perrin and Cluzaud accomplish their goal nicely for most of the underwater journey. Disney broke away from the structure that worked for them in their first nature release, EARTH, where they repurposed footage from the BBC series, “Planet Earth”. With OCEANS though, they captured some of the same situations that “Planet Earth” did for their segment on oceans, but it is an all-new film this time out, allowing OCEANS to feel much fresher than EARTH ever did. It is also a great second topic to explore as the oceans themselves, especially the depths, provide so many fascinating creatures that most people have never seen and some people won’t even believe are real. Some of the focus is lost when the green agenda is raised about an hour into the film but fortunately more time is spent admiring overall instead of preaching.

These two kids behind me did not stop asking their very patient mother questions throughout the film. If my mom had been there, I too would have been tugging at her blouse, asking, “What’s that, Mommy? What’s that!?” Well, I would have if I were still 10. Anyway, at first I wondered if maybe all of this was lost on them, but then I realized that questions mean interest and these two definitely had questions. More importantly though, they also had some very good laughs at just how crazy nature really can be. And while they may be laughing now, they will likely one day be tugging at their mother once again as they inevitably find themselves staring out into an ocean.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Written and Directed by Juan Jose Campanella
Starring Ricardo Darin, Soledad Villamil and Guillermo Francella

If in fact the secret is truly in their eyes, as is announced like some new revelation in the title of this 2010 Oscar winner for Foreign Language Film, THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES (EL SECRETO DE SUS OJOS), then it must never have been much of a secret to begin with. As far as I knew, the eyes have always been the gateway to everything you want to know about another person but when it comes to this picture, you can almost get everything you need right there on the surface without any need to go deeper whatsoever.

Argentinean director, Juan Jose Campanella, has been working in the American television industry for years, from series as varied as “30 Rock” to “House”, but has only tried his hand at feature films a few times in his life. Not surprisingly then, this particular feature feels an awful lot like an episode of television – an episode of “Law & Order” to be specific, a franchise that Campanella has actually directed before. Ricardo Darin plays Benjamin Esposito, a retired police officer who has decided to write a novel about one of his most famous unsolved mysteries. Naturally, digging up the past brings a lot of unresolved feelings back to the surface of his life, as well as those whose past he is digging up alongside his own. It’s a great story, and I can see why it would have haunted him all these years, but it isn’t anything you couldn’t catch on any of the countless cop shows out there already.

I understand that just because a picture picks up an Oscar does not make it a great film but I still can’t help a certain level of expectation.  THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES is a very straightforward detective drama with promises that there are further levels just lying beyond our field of vision. When I looked into its eyes though, I didn’t see anything more waiting underneath.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Black Sheep @ The Box Office

Well, I don't know if anyone saw that coming.  Just three weeks after HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON debuted to what was being called a disappointing result at number one, the Dreamworks 3D adventure rises above the much hyped KICK-ASS to reclaim the top spot and throw it in the faces of all those  losers who sold their Dreamworks Animation stock prematurely.

Despite mostly glowing reviews and great internet buzz, this week's expected champion, KICK-ASS,  came in about $10 million below most predictions and had to settle for a humbling second place finish.  An R-rating for a teen film is never going to be helpful but the way folks were hyping this one, it seemed as though the subject matter would have crossed past the youth market.  I guess pretending to be superheroes is not the same as actually being one when it comes to box office dollars.  It could still trade places with HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON when the final numbers come in Monday given the close finish but I would say the sequel is now in serious question.

The Steve Carrell/Tina Fey machine, DATE NIGHT, held up very well in its second week, trailing off by only 31%.  The $17.3 million finish was enough to nab the third spot from another comedy vehicle, DEATH AT A FUNERAL.  The Neil LaBute remake of the Frank Oz 2007 film managed the strongest per screen average of any film in the Top 10, including six of my dollars from this morning.  Good word of mouth could carry the film to a respectable end and it could still end up debuting in third if DATE NIGHT overestimates like it did last weekend.

As you already know considering I reviewed it yesterday, I also saw THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO this weekend in its fifth week of expansion, but those numbers were unfortunately not reported.  Meanwhile, another film I caught last week and will be reviewing this week, THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES, this year's Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film, debuted to strong results on just 10 screens.  The Spanish detective thriller earned a $17.6K average and will be expanding to more major markets next weekend.

NEXT WEEK: What looks like an aptly named film, THE LOSERS, will be hitting 2950 screens. Jennifer Lopez will try to woo back an audience for her flailing film career on 3000 screens in THE BACKUP PLAN. And Disney tries to do some good in the hood known as Earth with their second nature documentary, OCEANS, opening on 1200 screens on Thursday. Don't forget that if you see OCEANS in the first week, Disney will make a donation to save the Earth's coral reefs.


Saturday, April 17, 2010


Written by Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg
Directed by Niels Arden Oplev
Starring Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace

Mikael Blomkvist: As we’ve been sharing files recently, I assume you’re up to date.

Expectations are tricky to avoid when you watch a movie from the last year that has already generated enough international buzz to warrant a fast tracked American remake before it even hits American screens. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, from Swedish director, Niels Arden Oplev, is that movie and fortunately, it is worth all the hype that is surrounding it. From the moment it begins with the reception of an odd gift to an old man who weeps when he sees it, its focus is clear and deliberate – this will be a journey shrouded in mystery and deciphering that mystery for ourselves will require visiting some very dark places. Consider yourselves warned.

Two stories unfold to begin with. The first follows reputed, middle-aged journalist, Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist). He has just been found guilty of fabricating evidence to for a story that dragged a prominent businessman through some very dirty mud. He claims that he was set up but he still loses his job and his character. Unbeknownst to Mikael, he is also being investigated by a third party for entirely different reasons. A computer hacker hired out as a security company is following his movement closely. Her name is Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace). She is a young adult with a troubled past that she wears on her face in the form of piercings, studs and jet-black hair. Because of her gothic look, she is talked to, looked at and treated las though she is nothing. When Mikael starts investigating a 40-year-old murder, Lisbeth starts following his new case too. The real story starts when the two start working together instead of side by side in secret.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is on some levels, a straightforward whodunit. A powerful family with obvious secrets makes up the list of suspects in the investigation and evidence points in different directions, moving names up and down that list accordingly. Only each discovery uncovers a fresh and unexpected level of evil behind this deep-rooted murderous conspiracy and each of these levels reveals poignant connections between religion and misogyny. Like the intricate tattoo in the title, this one will leave you scarred for life.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Black Sheep's Blu-Tuesday

Now that Easter is out of the way and AVATAR is right around the corner, there isn't much in the way of big home entertainment releases happening this week. Who needs to rent something tonight with the return of GLEE on anyway? Still, there are a few releases you might find interesting and here they are ...

It's been fifteen years since Tom Hanks told Houston about a little problem he was having in space in Ron Howard's Oscar nominated, APOLLO 13, and Universal has decided to commemorate the occasion with a 15-year anniversary edition on BD. The release contains a feature commentary track from Howard and Apollo 13 Commander, Jim Lovell and wife, Marilyn, as well as a U-Control track that allows you to learn more about the historical context of the film and technological details without having to stop the film. And if I remember the film experience correctly, you'll need stuff to distract you.

In the UK, PIRATE RADIO is called THE BOAT THAT ROCKED and is 12 minutes longer than the North American version that is released on BD today. This little seen film about a pirate radio station being broadcast from a ship at sea in 1966 Britain is actually supposed to be pretty decent. I haven't seen it myself yet but it comes on good authority. Meanwhile, the disc itself is packed with BD exclusive featurettes but most of them amount to conversations with the cast members about topics they aren't exactly authorities on.


Just in time for the remake to premiere in theatres, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, sees a BD release.

Underground comedy hit, THE SLAMMIN' SALMON, looks for laughs.

And if you don't have enough room on your shelf for the extravagant deluxe edition of GONE WITH THE WIND, the Scarlett Edition, which fits nicely on your shelf with all the other BD's, is now available.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Black Sheep @ The Box Office

My apologies for missing the box office last weekend.  It was my birthday weekend and I was a little wrecked on Sunday.  Just a little though.  I still had enough juice to check out HOT TUB TIME MACHINE, which I thought was plenty funny, if not a little too good to be true in the end.  Maybe casting Steve Carrell in the John Cusack part would have made for better box office because it seems like Carrell almost always does well.  Sure, DATE NIGHT is his lowest opener since THE FORTY-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN but it's not like that movie did him so bad.

DATE NIGHT, boosted certainly from Tina Fey followers as well, pulled in a strong $27 million debut to steal first place from CLASH OF THE TITANS and HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, all three of which were in position to come in first after Friday's returns.  As far as Fey is concerned, this is definitely her strongest opening to date.  The new comedy dream team already have another project in the works and the success of this film will certainly help NBC's Thursday night viewership as well.  Meanwhile, TITANS crashed an expected 56% and DRAGON managed a strong hold, dropping off only 12%.

Elsewhere in the Top 10, the cancer drama, LETTERS TO GOD, managed to crack the list but barely with an unenthusiastic average of $1300 per screen.  Below the Top 10, the art house fare made very few waves.  Apparition Films celebrated Kristen Stewart's 20th birthday on Friday by adding 120 screens to the floundering run of THE RUNAWAYS.  The total was boosted over 130% but still only managed an average of $2300 per screen.  And with news of an impending American remake, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, continues limited success, pulling in another $550K on just 125 screens.

NEXT WEEK: Super heroes get a little less super in KICK-ASS, blasting out of their pajamas and onto 3000 screens.  Neil LaBute's remake of DEATH AT A FUNERAL with Chris Rock and Tracy Jordan will hopefully not die on 2400 screens.  And Demi Moore and David Duchovny try to keep up with THE JONESES on 190 screens.


Saturday, April 10, 2010


Written by Josh Clausner
Directed by Shawn Levy
Starring Steve Carrell, Tina Fey and Mark Wahlberg

Claire Foster: No! When he says,” vagina”, he means your face.

Before the day has even started, it is already gone. Nasal strips are ripped off your face while miniature bodies pile drive into you before the alarm even has a chance to go off. In all honesty, the alarm probably hasn’t even needed setting in years. Something will inevitably wake the Foster’s up to their routine earlier than necessary. Phil and Claire, played by the king and queen of NBC comedy, Steve Carrell and Tina Fey, sit on opposite sides of their bed and stare into the separate abysses that await them. The message is clear; being married is hard, maybe even too hard. As you look at these two comedic geniuses though, you still see hope in their nearly defeated faces – hope for both the Foster’s themselves and for the movie you’re actually about to watch. What everybody needs is a good DATE NIGHT.

I am not married and nor do I have children. In fact, I saw DATE NIGHT in the middle of the afternoon, alone. I may not be the intended audience in regard to the marital doldrums theme we have seen plenty of times before but there is a whole other audience built in to DATE NIGHT that director, Shawn Levy, plays to more often than the first. That would be the legions of Carrell and Fey followers out there, of which I easily include myself among. Before this, I essentially avoided Levy’s work altogether. I’m not saying I’m about to go back and watch the NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM series but I must commend him for rising above the complete implausibility of the film’s mistaken identity premise by allowing his stars to shine when they should. Meanwhile, getting strong character actors, like James Franco, Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis, for random bit parts also gives more credibility whenever it was needed.

Fey’s quick wit and Carrell’s endearing awkwardness may be strengths we are used to by now and just expect to some extent, but their mastery is only getting better and it is their chemistry that makes DATE NIGHT work when it so easily could have bombed. These two immensely funny people pull from their dramatic strengths to make sure the Foster’s are a real couple. They’re real because you can always see the fear on their faces – the fear that they could actually lose each other. This DATE NIGHT really needs to work. And it does.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Black Sheep's Blu-Tuesday: LORD OF THE RINGS

Yes, I realize that it is Wednesday and this is a Blu-Tuesday post. It was a busy day yesterday; what can I say?

Every so often, a new title comes along that eclipses all other titles being released that day. Today is one of those days as Peter Jackson's LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY is making its first appearance on BD. I will not make judgments about the films themselves. That hardly seems the point considering how well-loved they are by fans of J.R.R. Tolkien's classic novels. It seems even less relevant when you consider that the three films made a combined amount of $2.9 billion and collected a total of 17 Academy Awards between them. No, the only thing that matters right now is whether it is worth upgrading from the existing DVD copies you almost certainly have on your shelves already.

Here is what's new about the BD releases. All three films are in 1080p and DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1. This is the BD touch and considering that all three films won Oscars for visual effects, this should be what drives you to go out and get them. Personally, I did not find the transfer itself to be anything spectacular. Yes, Middle Earth looks great but it already looked great last I checked. The only other new inclusion in this set is a set of digital copies for all three films. Great! Now I can watch Frodo and friends on my iPad.

That's pretty much it. Everything else in this set is unchanged from previous releases, literally. The extras, none of which are new, are still in standard definition on DVD. There are certainly plenty of extras to make the LOTR experience that much more meaningful but anyone who owns these films already - and let's be honest here, how many people who want the films don't already own them - has already been through the extras already as well.

I think my biggest gripe about the LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY BD release is that it seems simply designed to take advantage of its core audience rather than honour it. Fans who have been waiting for this BD release will buy it but they're getting a rushed release with little to nothing new. The featured versions of the films aren't even the extended versions that most generally considered even better than the theatrical versions. That's fine though because they can just buy those too when they inevitably come out in time for some holiday.


Nicolas Cage stars in Werner Herzog's remake of BAD LIEUTENANT.

Francis Ford Coppola insists he's indie with TETRO.

And Madonna gets STICKY AND SWEET with her first tour BD.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Capitalizing on Capitalism

An interview with director, Michael Moore

When I first heard I was getting face time with the infamous non-fiction filmmaker, Michael Moore, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Whether you watch his movies or not, you likely have an opinion about him and his politics and opinions about him tend to be extreme. His detractors don’t give him a fair shake and even his supporters can tell you a thing or two they don’t like about him. Is he really the champion of the people he purports to be or is he riding their miserable coattails all the way to the bank? After having spoken with him though, I can tell you plainly that Moore doesn’t care about what anyone thinks of him. Moore only cares about one thing – America – and what people think of her.
The reason I know this is not because Moore couldn’t stop gushing about America but rather because he couldn’t stop apologizing for it when we spoke. “We Americans, let me tell you, and you can believe me if you want to, we are really good people,” he tells me after he discovers I’m Canadian. I assure him that I like Americans just fine, that some of my best friends are Americans. Perhaps I wasn’t convincing enough because he goes on. “We have a good heart; we come up with a lot of great ideas. Somehow lately though, we have gone into a dark place and ignorance is our wall we can’t climb out of.” I’m used to Moore wagging his finger at behaviour he deems bad on camera but hearing the disappointment in his country direct from his mouth was disconcerting.

In CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY, Moore’s latest controversial feature, he directs his lens at a facet of the American foundation that has been crumbling at the base as of late – the economy. Following the economic crisis or collapse or catastrophe, depending on what media inspired catch phrase you are partial to, Moore decided to explore the system that was falling apart in an effort to see if it is truly worth saving. “I want people to get angry enough to become active citizens and try to get this country back into the hands of the people and not the corporations,” Moore says of what he hopes people take away from the film. His initial aspirations make way for doubt though soon enough. “I don’t know if that’s going to happen or if it is even possible,” he continues. “It may be too late.”

Moore has been at this for a long time. His first feature, Roger & Me, was released in 1988 and he has been churning out films about gun control, health care and abuse of governmental authority ever since. It may not be possible to quantify exactly how much impact that has had but it is fair to say that, as a non-fiction filmmaker, he has had a greater influence on the general public than any other before him. “I have the privilege of making non-fiction films and reaching an audience of people who don’t go to non-fiction films.” Despite his disappointment in some aspects of his influence, he is certainly proud of how wide his reach is. “Studio surveys have shown that seven times out of ten, a person coming out of my movie is seeing a documentary in a theatre for the very fist time.”

I don’t know what’s more disturbing about that statistic – that so few people see documentaries in the theatre or that Michael Moore actually reads studio surveys.

At the time of our interview, Moore has no other project on deck. As he sits in front of me, looking like he should be drinking a beer in the backyard instead of promoting an internationally distributed film, I wonder if his exploits are starting to discourage him more than he realizes. Even as he begins spitting out random trivia bits about how 11% of Americans polled in a recent survey couldn’t find America on the map, I’m not swayed. Even as he follows these stats by saying, “This is what I’m dealing with. Sadly, this is what the world is dealing with,” I refuse to give up on him. One just needs to turn to one of the last things Moore says in Capitalism to remember his resolve. “I refuse to live in a country like this and I’m not leaving.”

Capitalize on that, Mr. Moore.

For Black Sheep's original review of CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY, just click the title.