Thursday, May 31, 2012


Written by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini
Directed by Rupert Sanders
Starring Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron

Ravenna: I feel that you and I are bound.

The Grimm fairy tale best known as “Snow White” dates back to the beginning of the 19th century. It is a cautionary tale of sorts to young women everywhere that beauty is only skin deep and that true beauty, the kind that either commands respect and admiration or say the attention of a handsome prince, is to only be found on the inside. On many levels, it not only warns the reader but rather sets up the expectation that one day our prince will come and make all of our woes disappear. It is a timeless tale but it contains elements that don’t necessarily translate to today’s contemporary princess. Of course, minor issues like these would never deter Hollywood from trying to bleed it dry. And while you can put Snow White in pants, she still needs to be kissed by a prince at some point.

The trick then becomes how to modernize Snow White for today’s audience while not losing the story’s key factors. SNOW WHITE & THE HUNSTMAN tries to do so by keeping the fable set during the period (which is done masterfully) but by making it into an epic battle between the two fairest women in the land, Snow White (Kristen Stewart) and her evil stepmother and Queen, Ravenna (Charlize Theron). Their beauty is supposedly unmatched - and I say unmatched because you can never convince me that Stewart could ever look better than Theron, even on Stewart’s best day and Theron’s worst - but Snow White’s is internal and Ravenna’s is merely on the surface. Yes, they ride horses and wear armor and wield swords but beauty is each their greatest weapon. First time director, Rupert Sanders, strives to give the fairy tale a realistic edge visually but he fails to make these women into real people. Perhaps it is his lack of filmmaking experience or perhaps it is a lack of understanding when it comes to women.

SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN spends most of its time with its title characters (Chris Hemsworth plays the hunstman) as they journey aimlessly through the land to reunite Snow White with her former subjects in exile. They barely speak (which in Stewart’s case is always best) but yet this is their love story. The film is only ever truly interesting when Theron is on screen. She is the only true evil queen (sorry, Julia!) and her obsession with beauty fuels her every move. She fears becoming old and being replaced by youth, a very real plight for many women today, especially actresses, and one that gives her character an edge I never saw in her before. This goes nowhere though and we are only left waiting for Stewart’s inner beauty to shine through and lead the people to victory. Stewart, with all her youthful vigor, never allows us to see what’s inside, leaving us with exactly the same beauty she is supposed to be fighting against. Sadly, this makes the movie itself only pretty on the outside too.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Black Sheep interviews Marc-André Grondin

An interview with GOON star, Marc-André Grondin

Before Québécois actor, Marc-André Grondin started work on the Canadian hockey comedy, GOON, he was not what you would call a great skater. “I skated like shit,” is how he actually put it to me.

This meant Grondin would have to train to convincingly play Xavier Laflamme, a major league hockey player burnout, who has been demoted to the minor league, which he can still barely keep up with. “The players today are machines. They start at 12 in the gym. There are like five guys in all of the NHL who are my size,” he explains of his motivation to pick up his game, with only a hint of self-deprecation. “So I trained. I had to go on a big diet. It was two and a half months of hell.” But worth it, I’m sure.

Laflamme is a character Grondin knows well. In fact, the tweaked out, trashy Québécois hockey bum is a character we all know well, whether we’re hockey fans or not. Rather than allow the character to sink into cliche though, friend and GOON co-writer, Jay Baruchel, worked with Grondin to keep the character feeling real. “When Jay sent me the script, there were a couple of things we knew we had to work on, mainly to not make this French-Canadian character a joke. We didn’t want ‘Tabarnac’ to be the punch line.”

Their efforts were successful. Actually, Baruchel, along with co-writer, Evan Goldberg (SUPERBAD), and director, London, Ontario native, Michael Dowse (FUBAR), injected Goon with so much genuine heart that none of the main characters succumb to any of their potential trappings.

Grondin, with co-star Seann William Scott
“The heart comes from Jay. He’s just like that,” Grondin says of his longtime friend, and fellow Montrealer. “He can see a douchebag, a nerd, a gay guy, a Russian, stuck up parents or potheads, whatever. Even though he labels them, he doesn’t judge them. I think that’s what comes out in Goon.”

And did Baruchel write the part of Laflamme with Grondin in mind? “That’s what he told me,” Grondin says, somewhat suspiciously. When he realizes I’m not sure if he’s kidding or not, he continues, “Well, he told me so early on in the process that I have to believe him.”

My Ottawa Xpress GOON cover story
Ever since Grondin’s breakout in Jean-Marc Vallée’s C.R.A.Z.Y., he has been working consistently in Québec and France. When I ask why he never went after the English market or Hollywood, he gets a little reticent, as if nervous not to say the wrong thing. I learn why when he says, “I don’t really dream of a perfect career because my happiness doesn’t reside in movies,” he admits, candidly. “If you ask me what it would take for me to be happy, I would say a small farm and a family, maybe a few horses. If I work in the US or in France, it doesn’t matter, as long as I can bay my bills and work with interesting people.”

Before we move on, Grondin chimes in with one more thought on the subject. “Obviously I still see some English films and think, fuck, I wish I could have done that.”

Grondin will be seen later this year in the Victor Hugo adaptation, THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, alongside Gérard Depardieu. With GOON now behind him though, is he keeping up with his hockey? “When we finished shooting, I continued working out. I stopped the diet but I continued playing hockey.”

GOON, which also stars Seann William Scott, is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Alliance Films.

Best of Black Sheep: Black Sheep interview Jay Baruchel

An interview with GOON star/writer, Jay Baruchel

For Canadians, it is considered borderline sacrilegious to not be a hockey fan. I know this because I am not actually a hockey fan. Despite this horrible aspect of my personality, I still managed to greatly enjoy GOON, a new hockey movie that practically does away with the sport itself and strips it down to what everyone secretly really wants to see - the moment the gloves come off and these massive guys on skates go to town on each others’ faces with their fists.

GOON co-stars and was co-written and co-produced by Ottawa born and Montreal homed, Jay Baruchel, who is a big, big hockey fan. “Hockey is my religion,” he tells me over the phone, with not a single hint of sarcasm. “The Habs play 82 games a year; I probably watch 76 of them. It’s how I organize my weeks.” And while that might sound extreme, just you wait. “Even as I sit here right now, I’m wearing a Habs jersey, sitting on a Habs pillow and playing with my Habs wallet.”

Yes, I’d say Baruchel is a very big hockey fan. It suits him well too.

Baruchel’s love (read, obsession) for the game served him well on GOON, which was directed by Michael Dowse, of FUBAR fame. The film shines for two main reasons, not the least of which is its authenticity and evident appreciation for the sport itself. “There’s no bullshit you can smell in this movie,” Baruchel jokes. “It is a passion project built by people that love this game and are fascinated by this way of life.”

Baruchel celebrating co-star, Scott
The second reason, is the film’s star, Seann William Scott. Famous for comedic parts in the AMERICAN PIE series and the classic, DUDE, WHERE'S MY CAR?, Scott would not be my first choice for the sensitive role of Doug Glatt, a guy going nowhere and getting up there in years, who discovers his calling working as an enforcer for a minor league hockey team in Halifax, Nova Scotia. For Baruchel, there was no other choice.

“We were very lucky that he was able to do it and I can say this now that the movie is made and about to come out, but we didn’t have a backup!” Aside from being glad it all worked out, Baruchel also has nothing but kind things to say about Scott. “Anybody who has ever met Seann for 30 seconds knows that he has a massive heart and is the most humble, disarming guy you’ll ever meet. He puts most Canadians to shame.”

With co-star and fiancee, Toronto native, Alison Pill
While Baruchel has been making waves in both Canada and the USA with acting turns in GOOD NEIGHBOURS and as the voice of the hero in HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGONGOON marks the first time he has written a feature screenplay. “It’s the first time anything I’ve written has ever been made,” he corrects me. For Baruchel, the rewards of writing carried certain expectations but he was still unprepared for the reality of how it all played out. “When you see these people connect to these characters that you created so much so that they start to know the character better than you, that was what was most exciting. These are people I wrote but the actors took ownership of them.”

Baruchel, looking smooth.
Unbeknownst to Baruchel, his own appreciative nature during our conversation was also quite disarming for me. While Baruchel is riotously vulgar as Doug’s best friend in GOON, it is clearly his role as writer that left him feeling smashed against the boards, y’know, in a good way. “It was a difficult movie to make but even at its hardest point, it was still this thing that came from my heart and my head that was now becoming real. I was just on a high the entire time we were filming.”

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Black Sheep interviews Jeffrey Schwarz

An interview with VITO writer/director, Jeffrey Schwarz

I am a 35-year-old gay man and, if it weren’t for the movies, I might not know who Vito Russo is. And I’m willing to lay down money that there is a strong chance that you have no idea whatsoever who he is either. If you do, that’s amazing. If you don’t, make sure you see Jeffrey Schwarz’s latest documentary, VITO, as soon as possible because, believe you me, whether you’re gay or straight, you need to know this man’s story.

“I think if you asked the average gay man or lesbian on the street in the 80’s or 90’s who Vito Russo was, 9 out of 10 people would be able to tell you,” Schwarz tells me when we meet at the TIFF Bell Lightbox theatre, the day before VITO is due to screen at the 2012 Toronto Inside Out LGBT Film Festival. “Now, not so much. As time goes on, memory starts to fade. I felt that it was really important to restore Vito to his proper place in the pantheon of gay heroes.”

Russo was an activist at his core. He spearheaded the gay rights liberation movement in New York; he is the founding father of gay film studies as we know it, having literally written the book on the subject (“The Celluloid Closet”); and he fought ferociously to bring attention to the AIDS epidemic, even though he too was slowly dying from the disease. His strength, bravery and relentless determination, as captured so well in VITO, bring me to tears time and time again when I hear of it.

Vito Russo in the Castro district, San Francisco
“A lot of people are having a very similar reaction,” Schwarz tells me, when I confide to him that his film had me bawling my eyes out in my living room. “The movie hopefully does what any movie should, which is illicit an emotional response. There is a lot of history in the film and the main motivation was to tell Vito’s story but also, through his eyes, tell the story of the gay and lesbian civil rights movement, to spark an interest in our history without it being a history lesson.”

Schwarz, as handsome and relaxed in this photo
as he was in person
The fact that the lesson needs to be taught at all demonstrates how far removed today’s generation of gay men and women have become from these initial struggles. While Schwarz wants to enlighten them, he doesn’t necessarily see this distance as negative. “I don’t know that younger people really stop to think about what came before them. In a way, that’s not really a bad thing. They just take it for granted; they get up in the morning and be who they are, which is a beautiful thing, and that’s what Vito wanted. The gay liberation movement at the time was raising issues that they knew wouldn’t come to pass for generations. They helped to create the world that we live in today.”

VITO is Schwarz’s third feature length documentary. When not making features, he works tirelessly (there are currently 119 titles to his credit as director, according to his IMDB page, 300 as producer) creating extras for DVD releases, including masterpieces like RAGING BULL and BLUE VELVET. He is currently raising funds for his next feature, a documentary about another gay icon whose history is becoming more and more obscure, Divine, the world’s premiere drag queen. Before that though, VITO will be hitting HBO (click for details) this summer and Schwarz couldn’t be happier about the sizable audience this opportunity will bring to the film.

“I made VITO for our community but at the same time, I made it for the world. He is obviously inspirational to the gay community but he can certainly inspire anyone, as long as you’re the kind of person who wants to change the world. His story really shows that one person can make a difference.”

Russo, at one of his final and most important demonstrations
Thank you, Mr. Schwarz, for telling his story. Now, you too have made a difference as well.

VITO screens tonight at the 2012 Inside Out LGBT Film Festival, at 7:00 PM, at TIFF Bell Lightbox. The charismatic Mr. Schwarz will be in attendance. Visit the festival website for details.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Written by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola
Directed by Wes Anderson
Starring Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward and Bruce Willis

Captain Sharp: Even smart kids stick their fingers in electrical sockets. It takes time to figure things out.

Wes Anderson is an auteur, through and through. His style is unmistakable – from the deliberate cinematography, wide angled and colourful, to the soundtrack, usually folksy and reasonably obscure. He even works with the same actors on a frequent basis (Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, most notably), which only further strengthens the definition of the Wes Anderson universe. His latest, MOONRISE KINGDOM, employs all of these familiar elements but something is missing this time. Aside from Owen Wilson (who has been in every single Anderson film except this one), what is most noticeably absent in MOONRISE KINGDOM, is a point. I mean, there is one; it just hardly seems worth all the trouble.

Working with his regular writing partner, Roman Coppola, who last worked with Anderson on a favourite of mine, THE DARJEELING LIMITED, Anderson weaves yet another quirked out tapestry of a story. Perhaps Anderson’s previous foray into children’s film inspired him to continue trumpeting the youth voice as his two main protagonists here are both barely old enough to watch the majority of Anderson’s repertoire. Sam and Suzy (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, both complete unknowns), fall for each other one night while he, having broken away from his scout troop while attending a church play about Noah’s Arc, stumbles upon her in her dressing room before her cue. There is an unspoken understanding that they are both outsiders – well, I assume there is anyway, otherwise I don’t know why else these two would gravitate towards each other – and they agree through correspondence that they should abandon their lives and live in the woods together. They both live on an island in the middle on nowhere and it’s 1965 so I guess that means this sort of arrangement is actually feasible. The kids do well with the morose, disaffected acting style Anderson pulls from all his actors but it sure is bleak to see future generations looking so hopelessly lost.

Aesthetically, Anderson never misses a beat. Every detail, and there are plenty of them, is tended to with great care. Sometimes, this leads to an absurdity that is both uproarious and insightful. At other times though, his films, despite the warmth in the colour tones themselves, can come across as quite cold. MOONRISE KINGDOM suffers from this. As the kids fight for their relationship, their parents and guardian types (the aforementioned Murray, as well as Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis and Edward Norton) bumble around trying to find them and keep their own lives from falling apart. The most I took away from this is that parents should check themselves because their kids are watching them and subsequently learning how to live and love from them at all times. The killer cast does their best to maintain the intrigue and mood but the simplicity of the themes left me wondering if Anderson is running out of things to say. Fortunately, for now, he still knows how to make whatever little amount he has to say look awful pretty.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Written by, directed by and starring Nadine Labacki

Nadine Labacki’s follow up to CARAMEL, her brilliant debut, entitled WHERE DO WE GO NOW? won the People’s Choice Award at last year’s TIFF. I was shocked at the time because I had heard nothing about it before then. I am even more so now that I’ve seen it. I do not see anything remotely satisfying about this farce of a film in which a tiny Middle Eastern village is torn apart between Muslim and Christian beliefs. The women cannot take losing any more of their sons or husbands so they do their best to hide the real world from the men. That plan only works for so long though, mostly because it’s a dumb plan. I get that it’s a fable but the subject in this case is too serious to be trivialized to this extent. At one point, there is a Romeo & Juliet romance hinted at that ultimately goes nowhere and inspires the characters to break out into song. I almost laughed out loud then but an hour later, I was desperate for them to sing again. As horrible and ridiculous as that was, it couldn’t be any more so than all the women drugging the men of the village with hash so that they could distract them long enough to dispose of all their artillery. Then they did sing again and I remembered how bad that was. Then I just wanted it to end. WHERE DO WE GO NOW? is definitely not this person’s choice.


Written by Stepher Dyer, Jonah Lisa Dyer
Directed by Tanya Wexler
Starring Hugh Dancy, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Rupert Everett

In Victorian London, the word, “hysteria”, was a medical term used to define the general restlessness and anxiety of the city’s housewives and the occasional tirade that stemmed from said affliction. Of course, we now know this as mere boredom but at the time, the menfolk didn’t know what to do with all these hysterical women. The deeper implications of how the word fully strips women of any power or stature they might have are merely touched on in Tanya Wexler’s HYSTERIA. Instead, the focus lies more with what was invented to deal with the issue, the vibrator. But while you might expect this topic would set the film abuzz with excitement, it doesn’t. Instead, the batteries die out before you get to the good part.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Best of Black Sheep: Black Sheep interviews Daniel Radcliffe

An interview with THE WOMAN IN BLACK star, Daniel Radcliffe

At this point in my career, I’ve interviewed a fair amount of famous filmmaker types. Still, there was something, dare I say magical, about meeting Daniel Radcliffe - the man, now 22, who played the most famous young wizard the movies have ever seen and spearheaded the biggest film franchise in history. And what did I say to him first thing after congratulating him on his first post HARRY POTTER outing?

“I have to be honest with you; I probably wouldn’t have seen THE WOMAN IN BLACK if I weren’t interviewing you. I just tend to avoid horror films whenever possible really.” I couldn’t believe these words had just come out of my mouth.

Radcliffe’s response: “Honestly, if I weren’t in this film, I’m not sure I would have seen it either.”

Don’t take that out of context. Like me, Radcliffe tries to avoid horror films whenever possible because they “terrify” him. (He cites Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING as a personal favourite though.) In fact, it only takes a few moments with him to absorb just how excited he is about THE WOMAN IN BLACK, directed by James Watkins, even though he does not believe in ghosts himself.

“I have never seen a ghost nor do I expect to,” Radcliffe states. “There always seems to be a co-relation between those who have seen ghosts and those who believe in them. As I don’t believe in them, I find it highly unlikely that I will ever see one.” The young man’s sharp sense of sarcasm is unexpected but welcome.

As Arthur Kipps in The Woman in Black
Of course, there is another reason Radcliffe wants to share this new film with his fans. It is an opportunity for the world to see him like they never have before, without the spectacles and sans scar.

“I am under no illusion that people are going to see this film and think, ‘Oh my God, he isn’t Harry Potter anymore. This is a total fucking transformation!’” he says, rather astutely. This is when I lose my train of thought though because suddenly I can’t seem to focus on anything other than how "Harry Potter" just said “fuck”. He does elaborate on his point though. “I can’t focus too much on how I am being perceived at any one time. It’s not constructive for me to think that way. Once people are used to me popping up in other things, it won’t be so much of a difficult stretch.”

Smiling for the cameras at The Woman in Black premiere
One might also think it something of a stretch to go from working on a huge franchise like HARRY POTTER to a film that reportedly cost under $20 million to produce. “People always say to me, if I do a smaller film, ‘Bet it wasn’t like this on Potter!’ and my reaction is ‘No, it was worse.’ People assume that because we had so much money and time, that it must have been a really smooth operation. It wasn’t; it was chaos. All film sets are chaos. Organized chaos, but chaos.”

Still, it was his first time away from the film home he had spent years growing up in. Fortunately, there was a fair amount of familiarity for Radcliffe to draw from. “It’s very hard to work on Potter and then do another British film without knowing anybody.”

On The Woman in Black set
Radcliffe read the script for THE WOMAN IN BLACK on the last day of shooting HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2 and started work on the film six weeks later, with four weeks of intense dance training in between for his successful Broadway run in HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING. I would’ve taken a year off personally but Radcliffe is clearly not the kind of guy who likes to sit still for too long. He could barely even sit still during the fifteen minutes we spoke.

“My thing is rather than getting back on the horse, why not just stay on it?” he quips like the cheeky, little Brit he is. Having met him now, I can see Radcliffe eventually riding that metaphorical horse right into the ground. That is, unless he doesn’t get the sudden urge to get off the horse and stand next to it naked first.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


Written and Directed by Simon Chung
Starring Pierre-Mathieu Vital and Gao Qilun

Hong Kong director, Simon Chung’s latest film, SPEECHLESS, rendered me just so when I first began to immerse myself in its quiet and patient beauty. It embodies a truly progressive movement in gay cinema, one where stories transcend the inherit issues that come with being gay without sacrificing them whatsoever. SPEECHLESS boasts a solid and sensitive screenplay that allows Chung’s visual language as a director to shine through. And you’ve gotta love a movie that starts with a hot French guy completely disrobing for a naked dip in a river somewhere in the middle of the incredibly picturesque South of China.

This naked man, known mostly throughout the film as the foreigner and played by Pierre-Mathieu Vital, says nothing to the Chinese police officers who bring him in after he is found on a river bank, passed out and being poked at with sticks by local children. They aren’t sure at first if he is just being difficult or not but eventually send him to a psychiatric hospital for treatment under the belief that his inability to speak is trauma induced. They are correct in their assumption and the rest of the film becomes a journey to piece together precisely what this mystery man is running away from. Luke, as we come to know the foreigner’s name to be later on, is joined by Jiang (Gao Qilun), a nurse who helps Luke escape the authorities to pursue his past. Their chemistry is undeniable.

The film may be called SPEECHLESS but Chung is anything but that, showcasing his voice as a director loud and clear with his latest. He exhibits great promise and confidence as a director with the potential to play to audiences around the world. By saying very little in the moment, SPEECHLESS speaks volumes long after its done.

SPEECHLESS has its Canadian Premiere at the 2012 Inside Out LGBT Film Festival in Toronto on Wednesday, May 22. Visit the festival website for more details.

Saturday, May 19, 2012


Written and Directed by Richard LeMay
Starring Ryan Vigilant, Benjamin Weaver, Karmine Alers and S. Lue McWilliams

If you’re the type of person who likes your movies melancholic and melodramatic, than NAKED AS WE CAME is the movie for you. This is not to say that the film doesn’t satisfy on these levels, but rather that you have to be prepared to dive into a particular mood for the entirety of the film. If you are properly armed to handle the onslaught of yelling and screaming in this family drama, then you may actually leave in tears. With films like this one, that is the point.

Elliot and Laura (Ryan Vigilant and Karmine Alers) are hardly model children. They run the family laundry business in New York City like dutiful offspring, but they bear so much resentment toward their deceased father for saddling them with this responsibility (let alone destroying their family) and their still living mother for, well, just being a bad mother to them while they were growing up. When they return home for the first time in over a year to insist that their aging mother (played with great fervor by S. Lue McWilliams) return with them to live out the rest of her years, they find that she barely has days left to live. To further aggravate the situation, which is truly unnecessary with these three high strung characters, the mother has a live-in houseguest that no one can quite figure out (Benjamin Weaver).

I often did not understand why everyone in NAKED AS WE CAME felt the need to yell all the time. Sometimes I laughed out loud at how ridiculous they were all being but other times, I was unexpectedly punched in the stomach by how honest they were being. And while it may feel claustrophobic at times to be trapped with this much drama, I came out the other side feeling a little less burdened and little more learned.

Black Sheep was also fortunate enough to interview the film's director during the festival and that goes a little something like this ...

An interview with NAKED AS WE CAME writer/director, Richard LeMay

Richard LeMay wears many a hat, from producer to writer and director, depending on the day. This weekend he is in Toronto for the Inside Out LGBT 2012 Film Festival and wearing all his hats at once to present his latest film, NAKED AS WE CAME. Given how much responsibility that has to come with, LeMay is as cool as can be when we chat just hours before his film screens.

“I really didn’t know what I was doing at first,” LeMay explains when I ask how he managed to begin building his impressive independent resume. “I didn’t go to film school. I just started making movies.” This does not always bode well for the finished product but LeMay credits the LGBT audience for providing him with the chance to develop his craft. “When it comes to this market, there is always a need for content. This is not necessarily a good thing because my first couple of movies weren’t very good.”

LeMay himself
His latest, NAKED AS WE CAME, is quite good. It still reads like an independent feature made by an untrained filmmaker but the emotion is quite palpable and effective, proving LeMay’s strength with character and story. This particular story finds a brother and sister (Ryan Vigilant and Karmine Alers) returning home to find out about and subsequently deal with their mother’s (S. Lue McWilliams) imminent death. I found it to be quite depressing but LeMay sees it quite differently.

“I’ve always thought of it as a funny movie,” he begins. “When you see it alone in your living room, its a very different experience from seeing it with a crowd of people.” He’s probably right considering alone in my living room is exactly how I saw it.

LeMay drew from experiences with his friends for the inspiration behind NAKED AS WE CAME. In one year, seven of his closer friends lost loved one’s and one in particular, actually had the chance to say goodbye before it happened. “It is one of the most painful things one can go through but it is also an incredible gift because not everyone gets the opportunity.” It is not directly about any one experience but LeMay still tried to be as honest as he could be. “I just tried to be as truthful to where I thought it could go.”

LeMay, second from right, on Naked as We Came set
LeMay and I chat a bit about the present and future state of gay cinema before I let him go to experience the glorious Toronto weather. Something he says about a question he had a recent screening though I think best captures where the genre is heading. “This one guy commented that the film has a very European ending and that he wishes it could have been a happy one instead. For me, it is a happy ending though. These characters are not succumbing to their patterns; they’re breaking them.”


Written by Michael D. Akers and Sandon Berg
Directed by Michael D. Akers
Starring Leo Minaya and Jack Kesy

For a movie about how no obstacle can stand in the way of true love, MORGAN is awfully depressing. When we first meet the title character in Michael D. Akers’ latest gay-themed love story, he is getting out of bed to what seems like a pretty meaningless existence. He is recently handicapped and, after wheeling himself to the fridge for a beer, he plops himself on the couch and just starts piling them back and watching television. The man just got up and the movie just got started. I miss the days when gay meant happy.

Structurally, MORGAN is extremely straight forward. In fact, at first, it is almost unbearably so. Morgan, played by sweet-faced, Leo Minaya, used to be a basketball and cyclist trophy winner before his accident. His mother (Madalyn McKay) dotes on him but sees him as a burden; his best friend is a sassy, black girl (Darra Boyd), who incidentally has about as much sass as a door stop; and he can’t seem to get his, uh, equipment to work. Basically, everything is set up so that by the time Morgan meets Dean (Jack Kesy) in a park one night, the audience is ready to let love overcome all of Morgan’s misfortune. They have no other choice really.

My being a sucker for a pretty face and a naive champion of love conquering all, I fell for the journey these two boys took to find love, despite the corny dialogue and sometimes forced delivery. Some of the harder questions, like how they can be intimate with each other or how they both wish he could still walk, are touched on in some of the film’s more engaging moments. The trouble is they find love way too soon, which leaves Akers with way too much time to fill after the fact. Subsequently, MORGAN amounts to a reasonably effective, somewhat endearing but mostly missed opportunity to celebrate how any one can find love if they’re open to seeing it.

MORGAN screens as part of the Toronto Inside Out LGBT film festival on Sunday, May 20, at 2:00 PM. Visit the festival website for details and tickets.

Friday, May 18, 2012


Written and Directed by Sally El Hosaini
Starring James Floyd, Fady Elsayed and Said Taghmaoui

Rashid and Mo (James Floyd and Fady Elsayed) are, on the one hand, the kinds of brothers parents dream of having. Rashid, being the older of the two, looks after his little brother in the tough East London neighborhood they call home. He tries to keep him in school and away from trouble with the local gangs. But when you are surrounded by drugs, guns and violence every day, it isn’t easy to avoid it altogether. This is especially difficult when the very brother that you idolize and that is trying to protect you, is also running with those same gangs.

In MY BROTHER THE DEVIL, one incident triggers these brothers’ unravelling. When Rashid’s best mate, Izzy (Anthony Welsh) is shot and killed in a gang fight that Rashid is involved in, and that Mo witnesses, the reality of life sets in immediately. Rashid realizes that life isn’t a game, that when you’re dead, you’re dead. Mo meanwhile has a different reaction. The killing disturbs him but he still fights for a place in his brother’s gang just as his brother is trying to get out. While Mo struggles to find himself and emulate his brother, Rashid deals with the same internal conflict to know who he is now that he has lost his friend. He eventually finds comfort in the arms of Sayyid (Said Taghmaoui), a mutual friend of Izzy’s, and then neither brother knows who they are anymore.

MY BROTHER THE DEVIL is Sally El Hosaini’s first feature film as a writer and director. Her biggest success before this one would be as assistant director on Paul Greengrass’s GREEN ZONE, which I despised. Fortunately, she did not take on Greengrass’s infamously shaky camera aesthetic. She demonstrates a strong sense of sensitivity toward her characters but doesn’t sacrifice any of the reality needed to make a story like this believable. And while it doesn’t bring anything necessarily new to the table, the brothers themselves are a convincing pair. Their once internal struggles become an amalgamated problem that threatens to ruin their relationship. To watch them fight to save it is moving.

MY BROTHER THE DEVIL was the opening night selection for the 2012 INSIDE OUT LGBT film festival. It runs until May 27 in Toronto.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Written by Sasha Baron Cohen, Alec Berg, David Mandel and Jeff Schafer
Directed by Larry Charles
Starring Sasha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris and Ben Kingsley

Nadal: When the thought of decapitating someone’s head doesn’t make you feel good, that’s love.

When a movie opens with a proclamation that is dedicated to the honour of the now deceased, former dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong Il, you know that what is about to follow is certainly going to be some of the most outrageous footage you’ve ever seen. THE DICTATOR, the latest Sasha Baron Cohen comedy vehicle, delivers this without flinching and the laughs, assuming you’re willing to go to all of these horrendously offensive and borderline racist places, follow in side splitting droves. I’m not sure what this says about me exactly but I had no problems going there and I was having such a good time, I didn’t want to leave.

Hailing from the fictional Republic of Wadiya, a Middle Eastern country where it is sunny year round according to their weather forecast, the Supreme Leader, Admiral General Aladeen (Baron Cohen), rules without any question or concern for how he treat his people. As he has people executed left and right, he is also plotting to trick the United Nations into thinking his nuclear capacity will be used to better the world instead of destroying it. Upon visiting the UN in New York City to continue his long con, he is replaced by a lookalike Aladeen and an attempt his made on his life, by the order of his right hand man (Ben Kingsley). While he tries to get back to his position of power, so that he can stop Wadiya from (gasp) becoming a democracy, he falls unexpectedly for Zoe (Anna Faris), who is of course the nicest person in the history of humanity.

Still under the direction of BORAT helmer, Larry Charles, THE DICTATOR marks Baron Cohen’s transition from mockumentary to scripted comedy. It’s a fairly smooth one and most certainly a marked improvement after his last similar outing, BRUNO. While the laugher and shock factor remain in tact though, the bite is a little less severe. This is because THE DICTATOR does not capture the visceral immediacy that BORAT did when it exposed people’s dark and dirty souls without them realizing. Instead, the underbelly of humanity is brought to light here in an oversimplified and often cliched manner, preying on the audience’s more inherently ignorant points of view on Middle Eastern culture, including my own apparently. In the end, THE DICTATOR provides the big laughs but it does so so easily that it eliminates any need for real thought on the subject, making it an excellent comedy but only a so-so satire.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


Written by James Ellroy and Oren Moverman
Directed by Oren Moverman
Starring Woody Harrelson, Ned Beatty and Ben Foster

Dave Brown: Bear in mined, I’m not a racist. Fact is, I hate all people equally.

There is only one reason RAMPART, Oren Moverman’s second directorial effort works as well as it does and that is Woody Harrelson. As a corrupt cop whose 24 years of questionable service in the Los Angeles Police Department are finally catching up with him and we are there to witness him spiral out of control. The beauty of Harrelson’s performance is that his particular fall from grace is executed with nothing but the most brilliant of technical control.

Moverman’s first film as a feature director is THE MESSENGER, another film that features a powerhouse performance by Harrelson. Moverman even received an Academy Award nomination for his work on the screenplay. With RAMPART though, he seems to have lost some of the confidence one would have expected would have just grown exponentially from his first success. His work with the actors continues to shine (including bleak but brave performances from Ben Foster and Robin Wright) but his visual approach here is amateurish. You can feel the constant need to be edgy or try new things, which only serves to take us out of the moment instead of draw us in deeper. Still, Harrelson is there to anchor everything.

RAMPART also boasts a screenwriting credit from L.A. crime writing expert, James Ellroy. His work with Moverman here is at times a bit ambitious in terms of the unwieldy web they try to weave but the character of Dave Brown himself is the best of their collaboration. As the audience, we are privy to so many of his darker moments and Harrelson, whom we know can lose his temper without notice in the part, exhibits so much restraint and internal struggle that by the time some of his walls begin to crumble, we can feel both the weight of the pain and the relief of the release. The film may not stay with you but the performance will.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Written by Seth Grahame-Smith
Directed by Tim Burton
Starring Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer and Eva Green

Barnabas Collins: Of all the servants I could have spurned, I got the witch.

The original soap opera television series, DARK SHADOWS, is before my time, I’m afraid. I’ve never seen the show but from what I understand, it was a bizarre endeavor that, about six months into its roughly 5-year and 1225 episode run, introduced ghosts and other supernatural elements into its world, a first for daytime television for sure. About a year in, the show reached its height of popularity with the introduction of a vampire character by the name of Barnabas Collins. Boys everywhere wanted to be this debonair creature, who is both heroic and flawed. One of those boys was Johnny Depp.

Depp’s boyhood dream of being Barnabas has finally come true. These kind of dreams can do that when you have enough money and clout to resurrect a cult classic such as DARK SHADOWS by convincing Hollywood that you can sell it to the masses. And not surprisingly, Depp brought on his long time director buddy, Tim Burton, to helm the project, a seemingly natural choice. After all, Burton is the director of BEETLEJUICE and EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. If there is any director out there that can capture that kooky, yet sometimes scary, but still human deep down, tone needed to pull this film off, it’s this guy, right? Unfortunately, as of late, Burton is more often than not the director Hollywood goes to when you need a vividly colorful and imaginative film that plays so broad it loses all its actual character. DARK SHADOWS falls somewhere in between the two Burton’s.

Burton does his best to keep these particular shadows pretty darn dark. Barnabas loses his parents at a young age, at the hand of a scorned lover, Angelique (Eva Green), and then watched his girlfriend plummet to her death off a cliff while under the influence of a magic spell (also administered by Angelique). When he reemerges in 1972, nearly 200 years after he was buried alive - well, more like buried undead - he rejoins his family, now led by a lovely Michelle Pfeiffer, and insists that they work together to reclaim the power and glory the Collins name once commanded. Any steam Burton musters in the setup though is lost once Barnabas is distracted by things like lava lamps and televisions. And then this epic, century-spanning, cursed feud is reduced to a corporate competition between fishing companies. Depp is delightful as Barnabas, which salvages DARK SHADOWS from disaster, but it would be nice to see Burton’s once unbound vision become boundless again, rather than see it consistently watered down for mass consumption. The worst part is that Burton is doing this all to himself.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012


Written by Abby Kohn, Mark Silverstein and Jason Katims
Directed by Michael Sucsy
Starring Channing Tatum, Rachel McAdams and Scott Speedman

Leo: I vow to fiercely love you in all your forms, now and forever. I promise to never forget that this is a once in a lifetime love. 

I had immediately dismissed THE VOW from the moment I first saw the trailer. It seemed insipid to me and disturbingly manipulative. The charming and beautiful, Rachel McAdams, who incidentally starred in the mecca of romantic weepers such as this one, THE NOTEBOOK, gets into a car accident with her handsome husband (Channing Tatum) and forgets she ever knew the man, let alone loved him. It reeked of the dreaded, “Based on the beloved Nichols Sparks novel” to fall below the title, which I usually take to mean I should stay away. So what happened to change my mind and finally see THE VOW? I developed a mad crush on Channing Tatum; that’s what happened. (Thanks a lot, Steven Soderbergh!) Well, now that I’ve seen it, I’m both pleased and surprised to say that THE VOW is not only not based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, but that is was actually pretty compelling too.

Now, I didn’t realize this before, not that it would have done anything more to get me to see this in theatres, but THE VOW is based on a true story. Somewhere out there, there are two people who actually went through this. I doubt their lives were as well lit but this grounding in reality does a lot to anchor THE VOW, saving it from romantic improbability. I’m not sure whether the real Leo & Paige were quite as pretty as these two either but if they went through half of the turmoil this pair went through, their story will go down as one of the greats. Sure on film, it plays out as dramatic and overly romanticized but a good deal of credit is due Tatum and McAdams for bringing the characters’ most vulnerable fears to the surface. They each bravely give into this all consuming love and all devastating circumstance and their commitment sells the movie.

Michael Sucsy, a director who previously drew impressive performances from Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange in GREY GARDENS, seems to have a knack for making unique situations understandable and almost relatable. He can draw great sympathy from the viewer without having to lay it on too thick. It’s just thick enough, if you will. Somehow, despite all the gooeyness, I was able to see right through to the substance at the center of the film and feel their pain. What you’re left with in THE VOW is a man whose great love is always just outside his reach and a woman who knows she’s supposed to feel something monumental but can’t. I found myself not only rooting for them to find each other again but rather just for the kind of love these two felt for each other, the kind of love that admittedly seems to only exist in the movies, to live on as well. If it did, then maybe it can also survive off screen as well.