Thursday, July 31, 2008


If it’s nearing the end of July in Montreal, there are two things you can be sure of. The first is that it’s likely heavy and muggy outside. The second is that the city is about to gather in support of its boisterous gay community with the pride parade and festivities just around the corner. Sweltering heat and thousands of gay men – that can only go in one direction.

In honour of the yearly celebration and the fact that it is supposed to rain all weekend, I thought I might share a few words about some of my favorite gay films. (Ladies, I apologize as these suggestions are entirely male centric.) You would think that after the success of BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, there would be a plethora of recent material to choose from. Sadly, this is not the case. Still, a trip to your local video shop can provide oodles of choices.

In 1996, movies that were gay themed didn’t play at the multiplex. In fact, if this movie were to come out today, it would probably still only find playtime at the repertory house. I saw Hettie McDonald’s BEAUTIFUL THING at a tiny theatre that was packed full and it still holds a special place in my heart. Based on Jonathan Harvey’s play, BEAUTIFUL THING is about exactly that. Two boys, Jamie & Ste (Glen Barry and Scott Neal), live next door to each other in the London projects. They find themselves one night sleeping head to toe and everything changes between them. The beauty they share goes much deeper than their young, innocent looks. The deeper beauty is found in the naïve discovery of what love is and that it can actually be found between two men. The picture itself never leaps past its stage roots and hasn’t aged gracefully but it has not lost its heart. When the two boys run through a forest with abandon before falling into a passionate kiss, innocence and discovery meet and are married.

Flash-forward to four years later and you will find that sexuality is still somewhat taboo but with a cast this vast, it is clearly making inroads. These particular inroads are in West Hollywood and this particular cast includes Timothy Olyphant, Zach Braff, Dean Cain, Justin Theroux and John Mahoney. The movie is THE BROKEN HEARTS CLUB – A ROMANTIC COMEDY, a modern version of the seminal film, THE BOYS IN THE BAND, with slightly less self-loathing. This ensemble piece focuses on the ties that bond gay men together and turn them into an indispensable support network for each other. Common experiences like coming out and kissing a man for the first time are universal but while these friendships build confidence and self love, they also break it down with jealousy and smothering. From Greg Berlanti of “Dawson’s Creek” fame, the film does play out like a serialized drama but the performances and predicaments are so sincere that tears will flow for any one into a little sap.

While we’re heading down the road of cute, why don’t we travel across the country to a New York subway where aspiring musical writer, Gabriel (Christian Campbell) meets eyes with go-go boy, Mark (J.P. Pitoc). They stare and look away until it’s time for Gabriel to get off. Chancing it, Mark follows so that he might do the same. True to its title, TRICK is about two strangers who scour the city in search of a place where they can get down and naked. Here’s the kicker; they find something else entirely. What they find is that by spending all that time together without getting naked means you can actually get to know someone and if you try really hard not to try at all, you might actually spark. This modern romance is innocently told by director, Jim Fall and will inspire even the most dire of cynics, including this one (my therapist would be pleased). AND … AND … TRICK features Tori Spelling singing and tap dancing!

From one night to one full summer of love, the next film on the list is France’s PRESQUE RIEN (COME UNDONE). This is the most poetic and artistic of the bunch. It is calm and it takes its time to tell the story of Mathieu and Cédric (Jérémie Elkaim and Stéphane Rideau). These two beach beauties meet and fall in love in the way only a summer romance allows. It is what follows the summer that forces each of them to grow up much faster than they imagined they would have to. While the film is at times quite sensitive, it is at others quite steamy. The first time I saw the film was in a theatre and the projection went out of sync and into a half frame during a particularly intense beach scene. Let me assure you, I’d never heard so many men holler at the projectionist so quickly and so loudly. Still, director, Sebastien Lifshitz tells this story of first love with candor and insight, allowing for a beautifully paced and engrossing experience.

Staying with the language but leaving the country for a city I call home, the last film on a list that could include oh so many more wonderful gems is Montreal director, Jean-Marc Vallée’s C.R.A.Z.Y. This film hits particularly close to home in more than just its setting. It may be just another coming of age story to some but Vallée’s script is sweetened with so many beautiful flourishes of memory, the tiniest details described with a magnitude that exposes its creator as a man of grace and understanding. Zac Beaulieu (played as an adult by Marc-André Grondin) is the fourth of five brothers. His mother believes he has been blessed by God as a healer; his father simply believes he is special. Neither of his parents wants to accept what they see developing in him but Zac wants it even less. Even as a young child, he knows there’s something different, cannot identify what that is but knows he has to pray to God every night until it goes away. C.R.A.Z.Y is subtle, sincere and heartbreaking. It is certainly a standout Canadian film.

Like I said, the list could go on and on and with the rain that seems to be doing the same these days, there could be plenty of time to rent these fabulous films as well as, I don’t know, HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH … or LILLIES … or THE VELVET GOLDMINE … or TARNATION … or MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO … or THE CRYING GAME … or BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, even. I think you get my point though, as colorful as it may be.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Written by Howard A. Rodman
Directed by Tom Kalin
Starring Julianne Moore, Stephen Dillane and Eddie Redmayne

Barbara Baekeland: One of the uses of money is that is allows us not to live with the consequences of our mistakes.

When I was growing up, my mother could be a little over involved in my life but she’s got nothing on Barbara Baekeland (Julianne Moore). SAVAGE GRACE tells Barbara’s story and that of her incalculable influence on the direction of her very tight family. Together, Barbara, Brooks (Stephen Dillane) and Tony (Barney Clark as a boy, Eddie Redmayne as an adult), exist in a tiny bubble where they can be seen by and perform for the rest of the world but ultimately exist solely for each other. Rich beyond their own comprehension, the Baekeland’s exude an air of arrogance and thrive on the act of acting. And even though, as the years pass on, the friends, acquaintances and passersby will have run far away, the Baekeland’s still have us.

The Baekeland’s come from money. Well, at least Brooks does. His father was the inventor of Bakelite, a popular plastic. Barbara, a former model and almost famous actress, married into the fortune and it suited her just fine to do nothing but be seen. With no real drama to occupy their time, the Baekeland’s must create their own and they become experts in the craft. And like the entirely selfish parents they are, they teach their young son, Tony, everything they know. First time feature filmmaker and brave soul, Tom Kalin, tells their revolting yet tragic story in a manner that neither glorifies nor condemns their demented ways. All the while though, he centers his attention on Tony so that we never forget who the real victim is. This makes it all the more deplorable when Tony abandons reason to embrace his family heritage.

SAVAGE GRACE is not for all. Make no mistake, when I say that the Baekeland’s ruin each other and bring about all of their own misfortune, I am not speaking lightly. This is a family that shares baths, beds and lovers. Kalin is mindful of his audience’s likely discomfort but also never afraid to show that audience the dirty details. Besides, when all the debauchery becomes too much to handle, one can always look to Moore and bask in her brilliance. Moore is flippant one moment and affected the next. Her performance is so delicately balanced between calculated control and callous chaos that one never knows which way she’ll turn and one is always shocked to find out. Both Dillane (who is practically unrecognizable) and Redmayne (who could so easily be related to Moore in reality with his pale, freckled skin) do more than simply hold their own. They complete the trio and it is a delight to watch them play off of each other, albeit a disturbing delight.

Kalin has not only crafted an engaging film but also a bizarre experience. If you can stomach this true story, then you will be treated to a frankness that is not common in American cinema. You will also get to spend time in dark places you may not be accustomed to. However, when you inevitably arrive safely on the other side, you will know the drastic differences in what it means to be fortunate.

Monday, July 28, 2008

THE TEASE ( A Trailer Review): W.

You can never trust a trailer entirely. They want you to see the movie after all. It would appear though that Oliver Stone's hush hush George W. Bush biopic, W. (pronounced Dub-ya), seems to be taking some shape in the public eye with this first look preview. It looks to me that we're going to see how George Jr., an incredibly messed up goof in his younger years, somehow ended up being the President of the United States. I'm intrigued and certainly impressed by the overall look. You've gotta love watching the leader of the free world chugging beer through a funnel. Still, I'm not sure why they decided to list all the character names instead of wow-ing us by telling us who all the actors behind all the make-up. (Did you catch that split second shot of Richard Drefuss as Dick Cheney?) Maybe it's me but I thought names tend to get more people into theatres. Still, as you watch Josh Brolin running ragged at the tail end, you know that a fair amount of people are going to run to see what Mr. Stone has to say about it all. W. is in theatres October 17th.

Trailer Grade: B

WEEKEND BOX OFFICE: The Dark Knight Holds Court

The truth is out there and it can be found in THE DARK KNIGHT apparently. The geeks have spoken and they have shunned THE X-FILES in favour of their new leader, Batman. It half pains me to see how dismal the returns for THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE actually were. On the one hand, I wonder where all the X-philes were but on the other hand, I guess they were just avoiding this incredibly disappointing return. Even the musical and stupid comedy followers were more loyal than the X-philes. The film will go on to recoup its $30 million budget but a $10 million take essentially ensures that this is the last we will see of Mulder & Scully. I for one will miss you.

THE DARK KNIGHT continues to shatter records as it pulls in another $75 million. It is now just shy of IRON MAN’s $315 million to take the title of 2008’s biggest film. No other film came close to matching Batman’s success and there is now even talk that THE DARK KNIGHT could go on to become the greatest domestic blockbuster of all time. It would have to beat TITANIC’s $600 million take to do so but as it only took 10 days to pass the $300 million mark, it is certainly the first film in years to pose a viable threat. At the very least, it should go on to take the runner up spot, ahead of the original STAR WARS.

Opening in second place is the new Will Ferrell pic, STEP BROTHERS. Ferrell has reclaimed his king of comedy crown after it was in jeopardy of being taken from him after this spring’s disappointing SEMI-PRO. The $30 million take doesn’t match the previous opening weekends for summer comedies like GET SMART or YOU DON'T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN but it surpassed negative reviews to take the number two spot, which is the best anyone could have hoped for.

Many titles in the Top 10 held on strongly while a number of art house films opened to promising titles. MAMMA MIA! saw a minimal decline, putting in a position to best last year’s HAIRSPRAY. JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH 3D continues to benefit from strong word of mouth and should help usher in next week’s other Brandon Fraser movie, THE MUMMY 3. And Pixar’s WALL-E may no longer be on course to be one of the top three Pixar successes but as it rounds the $200 million mark, it should definitely surpass last year’s RATATOUILLE.

On the art house front, the steamy BRIDESHEAD REVISITED debuted on 33 screens to a per screen average of $10K. The film is expanding aggressively in the next couple of weeks. The critically acclaimed documentary, MAN ON WIRE, opened on a mere 2 screens and took in $24K per screen. And French import, TELL NO ONE, continues to expand strongly, taking in almost $6K per screen in its fourth week. Last but not least, this year’s documentary winner at Sundance, AMERICAN TEEN, pulled in $8.5K per screen but it remains to be seen whether the apathetic teens the film portrays will overcome their apathy to make their way to the theatres as it expands.

NEXT WEEK: THE MUMMY 3 is the first reasonable challenge to THE DARK KNIGHT. Mind you, I guess Kevin Costner could swing the vote his way with his election comedy, SWING VOTE.

Source: Box Office Mojo

Saturday, July 26, 2008


Written by Frank Spotnitz and Chris Carter
Directed by Chris Carter
Starring David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly and Xzibit

Father Joe: So you believe in these kind of things?
Fox Mulder: Let’s just say I want to believe.

Like Mulder, I too want to believe. Or at least at this point, I wanted to. I wanted to believe that THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE could bear its inherently heavy burden of justifiably resurrecting this classic modern television series six years after its close and ten years after the last film incarnation. I wanted to believe because I was an X-Phile; I watched religiously every week to see Mulder and Scully (David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson) take each other on while they tackled the unexplained that no one else wanted to deal with. I wanted to believe show creator and film director, Chris Carter, knew that this was the right time, that he had the right story to come back with that would breathe new life into these two characters that are cherished by and inspirational to so many fans around the world. The truth is, and I do understand the weight of that particular phrase given the context, that Carter and co-writer/X-Files veteran, Frank Spotnitz, clearly put a lot of care and thought into bringing these characters into the present but their best efforts are also their ultimate undoing. Carter may have shattered all of my beliefs but they were all the wrong ones to break.

Given the amount of secrecy that surrounded the production of this film, one would think it might be difficult to discuss the plot without revealing too much about the film. However, I fail to see the need for all the precautions, as there isn’t too much to the plot. In order to sell the X-Files to a wider and younger market, it was decided that this new movie would be a stand-alone X-file and not one shrouded in the alien conspiracy that made the show so compelling long before contemporary serial dramas like “Lost” or “Heroes” followed suit. Only the conspiracy was one of the major factors in creating the urgency that the X-Files television series commanded. It may not have been prominent in every episode but it was never forgotten. Now, we find that Mulder and Scully have moved on from the FBI. She has become the medical doctor she had always planned to and he is hiding out in the woods somewhere, true to his paranoid character. When the FBI comes around asking for their assistance on a case that only their expertise can help solve, the twosome are at odds with how deep they wish to get involved. Let alone that the case itself would be better suited for a “Without a Trace” movie as there is nothing particularly freaky or scary about it,
but how am I supposed to be excited about Mulder and Scully being back if they aren’t?

This is not to say that Duchovny and Anderson aren’t there; they are. In fact, the most satisfying element of I WANT TO BELIEVE is the opportunity to spend time with these two unique personas once again. Although they both acknowledged publicly that they struggled with finding these characters again when they first started shooting, you can’t tell. The love and respect that bonds them together is still present, as is the stubbornness and frustration that stems from that mutual admiration. The way in which Carter and Spotnitz approach these characters after years apart from them is to imagine where they would have ended up, drop them there and then let us see them. While this is very mindful of the inevitably intelligent audience the X-Files has always attracted, it is not terribly satisfying for that same audience that has craved progress and resolution to the Mulder & Scully relationship all this time. Bits and pieces of what has happened between them in the years we’ve missed are revealed in dialogue that is tossed out casually and we have to notice it, grab it and connect the dots ourselves. I would ordinarily applaud this writing but we’ve had this dance before; in fact we had it for nine seasons. It is no longer enough to tease. The time has come where seeing is believing.

It is near impossible for me to be entirely objective when it comes to the X-Files so I warn you ahead of time that my grade will probably be higher than it should be and the truth about THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE is still out there for you to discover all on your own. The problem here is that I can’t recommend you pursue this particular truth. Fans will be disappointed but still find a part of their hunger fed but I can’t see any appeal for anyone outside of the fan base. It lacks thrills, chills and the aesthetic of a feature film. I almost wish they had left it all alone but I wanted to believe that Carter could kick-start a film franchise he should have jumped on years ago. Instead, all I believe now is that we can’t go back and forward at the same time.

Friday, July 25, 2008


In the X-Files television series, certain buzzwords would be tossed around more often that Mulder would be caught watching porn. Words like “truth” and “trust” or even “alien-human hybrid.” None of these words bothered me like this one particular word, “debunk.” Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) was brought on to the X-Files specifically to "debunk" Agent Fox Mulder’s (David Duchovny) work in the FBI basement and the writers never let you forget it. Well, now it’s my turn.

Series creator and THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE director, Chris Carter, has gone to great lengths to make sure that fans get to experience the pleasure of his new film with absolutely no knowledge going in whatsoever. He wanted the experience to be like Christmas morning for the fans – well, the fans who didn’t go sneaking through their parents’ bedroom days beforehand anyway. I’m not even kidding you here but only directors and producers had copies of the script. Actors were allowed to read it and then it was taken away from them. (Everyone knows you can’t trust actors.) Studio up and up’s were only allowed to read the script under video surveillance in a locked vault. Cast and crew showed up day of, unsure of what exactly was to be filmed, received the day’s script pages and then had them taken away and shredded at the end of the day.

Considering all of this extravagance (I would hope that some people have bigger conspiracies to expose outside of the new X-Files movie plot), it seems somewhat odd that Carter would put together a DVD anthology of eight episodes from the award winning series, entitled THE X-FILES REVELATIONS, that would enhance the viewing experience of the new film. Well, I’ve watched these eight episodes and I’ve got a theory of my own now about what to expect on July 25th. Here’s a breakdown of the great eight.

PILOT (season one)
The X-Files begins in silence. Mark Snow’s infamous theme music has yet to be created but the ominous X looms with enough weight to alert us that what is about to begin is more than you’re likely ready for. A girl runs through the woods before she is surrounded by light. When the light and the night both disappear, she lies there dead without explanation.

We meet Scully before we meet Mulder. She is being assigned to the so-called X-files unit of the FBI. This is where unexplained files go to die and also where she meets agent Mulder. He believes in the fantastic. She believes in the scientific. Many elements of the alien lore that became the foundation of the series are introduced right off the bat (losing time, the cigarette smoking man) but as the new movie is not supposed to involve the alien conspiracy, then I would think that watching the pilot is just a great way to see where Mulder and Scully took their first steps.

BEYOND THE SEA (season one)
It’s Christmas time but it’s hardly merry. After entertaining her parents for dinner, Scully passes out on her couch. She wakes to a vision of her father sitting across form her, mouthing something without making any actual noise. The phone rings suddenly and her mother tells her that her father has died. Scully jumps right into her work. When Mulder sees her, he calls her by her first name for what seems like the first time. The case in front of them throws the two reliable agents into opposite roles. A death row prisoner summons Mulder to see him regarding information he knows about a kidnapping that is currently in progress. He claims to be psychic. Here’s the kicker. Mulder doesn’t believe he’s the real deal. Scully, on the other hand, is taken entirely under his spell. When Scully tells Mulder that she thought he would be pleased that she has opened herself up to new ways of seeing, he wishes it were under more supposedly legitimate circumstances.

THE HOST (season two)
The X-Files have been shut down and Mulder is not happy. Scully has been reassigned elsewhere but the twosome sneak around piers for midnight meetings. This episode doesn’t seem to offer much insight into where the movie might go but it is definitely one of the series’ more gruesome offerings. A giant fluke worm has infiltrated the New Jersey sewers and Mulder is in charge of catching him. Even though they’re not supposed to, Scully and Mulder are still working hand in hand. Though reassignment can’t keep these two apart, it does make Mulder think about his future at the FBI.

Another episode, another psychic. Unlike “Beyond the Sea”, this episode is much more playful. Belief is the word though. A serial killer is taking the lives of fortunetellers and a famous fortuneteller is called in by local police to help shed some light on the case. Mulder and Scully are also called in but Mulder is quickly kicked out of the fold because of his supposed skepticism. Again, Mulder only believes the real deal and he finds it in an insurance salesman by the name of Clyde Bruckman, played by an adorably irritable Peter Boyle. Scully is in true form, disbelieving Mr. Bruckman’s abilities but Mulder, as usual, has enough belief for the both of them. Boyle makes this episode is a joy to watch as he tests Mulder’s already thin patience and sends Scully’s eyes further inward then they ever have been before.

MOMENTO MORI (season four)
From laughs to tears, this episode is one of the best in the entire series. While it is steeped in conspiracy, it is also incredibly heartbreaking for anyone who cares about these beautiful characters. Scully has discovered that she has an inoperable brain tumor (caused by tests she endured while she was abducted in an earlier season but that’s not really important). Mulder refuses to accept what Scully believe to be the inevitable. His commitment to Scully has never been stronger and her inner peace offers a soothing tranquility. Watching this episode only further strengthens my presumption that the Mulder and Scully relationship will reach new levels of intimacy in the upcoming film.

Alright, Carter, you got me here. I’m stumped. I have no idea how this episode, in which Mulder and Scully investigate a comic book character come to life, could possibly add weight to understanding the new film. It is in black and white and, while it is certainly an amusing episode, it marks for me the beginning of the end for the originality and immediacy demanded by the four previous seasons. It is a mad scientist shout out to Frankenstein, in which genetic manipulation is unleashed on a public dying to see a parade of freaks on the Jerry Springer show. It just feels gimmicky, like it’s trying to be cool when it never had to try before.

BAD BLOOD (season five)
There are two sides to every story and those sides are always at odds when they’re being told by agents Mulder and Scully. Mulder has killed a boy who may have been parading as a vampire under the belief that he actually was a vampire. The twosome must get their stories straight before they present their case to their superiors. And so the story is told from each perspective. Scully’s interpretation of Mulder is as a hyperactive personality, both in presence and imagination. Mulder’s version of Scully is controlling, aggressive, frighteningly intimidating even. This dissection of character by the characters themselves is absolutely hilarious while revealing a closeness that can only be experienced fully after years of being together.

MILAGRO (season six)
Spending years in a sexless relationship can take its toll on a person, even a super person like Dana Scully. After a somewhat eerie, somewhat enticing elevator ride with Mulder’s new neighbour, Scully can’t get this guy out of her mind. I mean, so what if he looks a little crazy and has no furniture whatsoever in his apartment. So what if he’s a failed novelist. When you’ve gone this long without knowing another person in the biblical sense, I guess certain concessions have to be made. Not that Scully is the kind of girl to jump into bed with someone but even the mere possibility sends Mulder into such a tizzy that he puts a gun to the guy’s head. Sure, the guy is quite possibly writing people’s deaths so vividly that his stories manifest themselves in real life but there was definitely a little jealousy involved.

Let’s review. We’ve got three episodes with people who can predict the future or at least portend to do so, two episodes with genetic mutations and three episodes that deal specifically with the intensely touching yet platonic relationship between Mulder and Scully. Psychics + genetic miscreants + Mulder & Scully = I WANT TO BELIEVE? OK, so it’s not a theory so much as an equation. We’ll soon find out though as months of secrecy are about to be revealed. Now the only mystery left unsolved is whether all this suspense and time was worth the wait.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

MONKEYING AROUND: An Interview with SPACE CHIMPS director, Kirk De Micco

When I arrived to meet first-time director, Kirk De Micco, in the lobby of the St. Paul Hotel in Montreal’s financial district, I was made to wait. It’s not that De Micco actually made me wait; it’s just that he was seeing dozens of press people throughout the day and the guy scheduled before me was running late. So I ordered a latte and I waited to meet the man behind the monkeys that all the kids are talking about. Wouldn’t you know it? The man is a big kid himself.

SPACE CHIMPS is a rarity in the Hollywood production system. It is an independent animated feature. As animation takes a lot of time and a lot of time means a lot of money so independent can still mean upwards of 40 or 50 million to make but that’s chimp change compared to the $150 million plus price tag attached to animated panda or robot movies you may have seen recently. There is something else about SPACE CHIMPS that makes it unique. This is an animated movie for kids. That might sound obvious seeing as one could assume any cartoon is for kids but that just isn’t the case today. Today, studios want to reach out to an audience far and wide so that means parents and young adults too. SPACE CHIMPS doesn’t bother with all that pandering. They’re in it for the little guy.

The little guy in the movie is a little monkey really. Ham III, voiced by Saturday Night Live’s Andy Samberg, is the grandson of the original Ham that flew into outer space decades ago. His turn has arrived but his impending space voyage is getting in the way of his bustling circus act. You can’t fight destiny when it calls on you though and thanks to SPACE CHIMPS, destiny is now calling out to De Micco.

Before De Micco got down to it, he was taken by the presentation with which my latte was served. The sugar, both raw and refined, was served in squares with circles hollowed out in the center so that they could be spiraled up a short pole. Leave it to the cartoon guy to be distracted by a pretty visual presentation.

Joseph Belanger: First of all, congratulations. This is your first time out directing a feature film and that pretty much means this must be your first time out touring with the project, making the rounds. How are you handling all of this insanity?
Kirk De Micco: It’s been pretty neat, I gotta say. We saw the film this past Saturday at the Fox studios in L.A. A lot of people brought their kids. They all seemed to enjoy it and the kids are really taking to it. Everyone seems happy to have brought their kids to a nice movie. It’s just been a positive type of vibe, which is what we set out to do. Hearing kids laugh, y’know, this is why we were up so late all those nights.

JB: On the subjects of pleasing the kids, there’s a school of thought these days about animation that there are animated films for kids and then there are others that are just as entertaining for adults so they can have fun too. SPACE CHIMPS doesn’t seem to be concerned with making sure Mom and Dad are having a great time. It feels like all you cared about were the kids, which is oddly refreshing.
KDM: If you go to Disneyland with your kids, I would hope that you would have fun on all the rides but the experience is more aimed at the kids and it is part of growing up. The movies I loved as I was growing up may not appeal to everyone else but they mean a lot to me. Animated movies it seems are often lumped together as one type of movie just because they’re animated but with live-action films, there are comedies made just to be comedic and other movies that are for other reasons or groups of people. Animation isn’t a genre; it’s a medium. It’s just got a fun, joyous spirit.

JB: So I would assume you’ve been into animation for a long time.
KDM: I think animation, curiously enough, for me, I was always into Looney Tunes and Hanna Barbara cartoons. I always think of animation in that vein. As much as I love a Disney film, it’s a particular type of film but animation, cartoon animation, is still what I watch over and over again. Television animation seems almost entirely geared towards kids too. If you look at the SpongeBob’s out there and all the things that I love to watch, it always has that rollicking spirit.

JB: And even within television animation, you have your SpongeBob’s that are geared toward kids but you have your Simpsons that kids laugh at but I can never understand how they get the jokes. Still, both of these shows know their audience.
KDM: I know. Nothing is worse than a movie that tries to please everyone and finishes by pleasing no one. SPACE CHIMPS was more like an independent film. We had a limited budget. We made it up here in Canada; we were far away. We didn’t have to deal with studio restrictions to turn into something it wasn’t. I mean it’s coming out on 2500 screens but as far as animation goes, it’s still a little film. Our budget is like a fifth of the WALL-E budget. In that respect the people at Pixar couldn’t be free to make a movie that is just for kids because there is just too much money at play. We just wanted to make a good kids movie with a solid, simple message.

JB: And SPACE CHIMPS has a good message. Slacker monkey overcomes his own resignation to be the best monkey he can be, no matter where that is. He was a little cynical for an animated monkey, mind you.
KDM: He is cynical, yes. Andy Samberg, who voices Ham, has a very sardonic approach. Ham doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. He was just gliding alone, pretty happy to be a circus clown, entertaining kids.

JB: How did the idea of chimps in space come to be?
KDM: I was watching one of my favorite films, THE RIGHT STUFF, and there’s this famous line where the Sam Shepard character, Chuck Yeager says, “Do you think the monkey knows he’s sitting on top of a rocket that might explode?” So I started thinking, what if he did? I found that Ham cover from Life magazine 1961 and he’s just sitting there all serious. So I thought what if the never do well grandson has to figure out that he’s got the right stuff. It just sorta took off from there.

Listening to De Micco speak, I couldn’t help but see a little Ham in him too. While he’s certainly not coasting through life, he’s plenty happy just entertaining the kids and he’s most certainly got the right stuff.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Written by Maureen Medved
Directed by Bruce McDonald
Starring Ellen Page, Max McCabe-Lokos and Slim Twig

We all know it’s difficult to be a teenage girl. Only, there’s adolescent angst and confusion caused by raging hormones and a developing mind and then there’s Tracey Berkowitz (Ellen Page pre-Juno explosion). On many levels, Tracey is like all the other girls. She’s just the average teenage girl who hates herself. Between torment from her peers in school, a hotheaded father, a mentally unstable mother and a missing brother, it is not surprising that Tracey’s focus is so, well, fragmented. And while Tracey’s plight makes THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS a compelling tale in its own right, it is the visceral split-screen aesthetic and raw performance by Page as Tracey that create for the viewer a fundamental need to see these countless fragments be pieced together into some manner of integrated whole.

It’s difficult to say whether the editing style makes the film or saves the film. It is so downtrodden that if it were to play out straight, it might be too tedious to bear. The harrowing subject matter is also difficult to maintain as believable outside Page’s inner circle. The supporting cast is often awkward & amateurish but the style manages to hide that as much as possible. Still, Tracey’s fragments make for an innovative cinematic language that stretches into the DVD special features as well. Even the “Behind the Scenes” featurette is told in the same visual style. Aside from that and a monotonous picture gallery, the DVD also features a segment entitled “Tracey: Re-Fragmented”. At the time of the film’s release, the raw footage was made available online for download and the five best re-cut shorts have been included on the DVD as part of a contest. The results are mixed but the concept is pioneering.

The same can be said for the film itself.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

WEEKEND BOX OFFICE: A Bright Weekend for a Dark Knight

I was telling a friend of mine that THE DARK KNIGHT had beaten SPIDER-MAN 3 this weekend to claim the title of best 3-day opening weekend of all time. His response, big deal. Apparently, he’s heard enough of box office record breakers. It seems that every weekend some new movie has claimed the title of best R-rated, live action July opening for a non-sequel in a language other than English. It’s a shame really because all these box office boys calling wolf makes it hard to spot the real deal when it happens. And the records set by THE DARK KNIGHT this past weekend are definitely the real deal.

THE DARK KNIGHT, directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Christian Bale and the late Heath Ledger, set one record before it even began its Thursday night midnight screenings. Playing on 4,366 screens across North America, THE DARK KNIGHT had the widest release of all time, besting the previous record by PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END, which launched on 4,362 screens. The film then broke another record before its official launch date. Pulling in over $18.5 million from its Thursday midnight screenings, THE DARK KNIGHT bested the $16.9 million taken in from midnight showings by STAR WARS EPISODE III: THE REVENGE OF THE SITH. And that didn’t even include the extra screenings movie houses added at 3:00 AM and 6:00 AM to accommodate for the demand.

Going into its first official day of release with its head held very high, THE DARK KNIGHT then took in an unprecedented first day tally of $66.4 million (including the overnight screenings). These numbers bested the record for one-day take previously held by SPIDER-MAN 3, which took in $59.8 million on its first day in theatres. Prognosticators expected THE DARK KNIGHT to do well before the weekend started (you’d have to be pretty daft not to have figured that out) but it was not expected to shatter record for all-time best opening weekend. SPIDER-MAN 3 claimed that title last summer when it opened to an awesome $151.9 million but the bar has now been bumped up that much higher as THE DARK KNIGHT estimates have come in at $155.4 million.

I can’t say whether the excitement over THE DARK KNIGHT comes from an overwhelming interest in Batman movies, an audience that has grown exponentially since Nolan’s last Batman pic, BATMAN BEGINS (which, comparatively made a scant $47 million on its opening weekend) or whether the Heath Ledger fascination factor made the difference but whatever the reason THE DARK KNIGHT led the way for Hollywood’s most successful non-holiday weekend in history. The overall box office tally this weekend was roughly $250 million, besting the previous 3-day weekend record set on the weekend of July 7-9, 2006, where PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN’S CHEST led the way to a total of $218 million.

Yes, folks, movies other than THE DARK KNIGHT played in theatres this weekend. Musical MAMMA MIA! found its own following, taking in $27.6 million, narrowly besting the opening weekend take of last year’s sleeper hit, HAIRSPRAY. SPACE CHIMPS couldn’t pull any monkey love away from WALL-E, earning a scant $7.4 million.

NEXT WEEKEND: THE DARK KNIGHT faces some reasonable competition but should remain victorious. Well, I guess every X-phile could leave their basement for THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE. Or maybe people are truly desperate to see grown men, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly act like prepubescent punks in STEP BROTHERS … I mean, we’ve NEVER seen that before!


Written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Morgan Freeman

Alfred Pennyworth: Some men simply want to watch the world burn.

There can only be one Batman and as I sat amongst a full crowd that was silent in awed anticipation at the crack of the film, it is clear that director, Christopher Nolan’s Batman is the one. In BATMAN BEGINS, Nolan (whom at the time he attempted to revive the franchise had only directed a handful of indie projects) took an icon and made him human. Batman, and of course his real life persona, Bruce Wayne, was damaged. He had fears; he had frustrations; he had to find himself. What he found with a little push from Nolan was a flawed figure but also a man whose heroism was defined by his humility and relentless pursuit of justice for those incapable of demanding it for themselves. With the arrival of THE DARK KNIGHT, Nolan has finished with his foundation and taken to the vertigo-inducing heights on the tallest of Gotham’s buildings to analyze the city and all its inhabitants. Gliding both gracefully and dauntingly through all of it is the dark knight himself (reprised by third time Nolan collaborator, Christian Bale). What he sees from his unique view that becomes our privileged spectacle is world of delineating lines and order that is about to torn apart by chaos and chance.

Gotham City must be pretty far down the list of safest places in America to live. Not only does there seem to be nightly violence at the hands of common street thugs but all the crazies seem to end setting up shop there too. Enter the Joker (Heath Ledger). We know nothing of what made him the homicidal maniac he is nor does he have any regard for human life. In fact, he has nothing but disdain for it. Humanity’s rules and order may disgust him but they also make it possible for him to predict how people will behave, allowing him the chance to throw out loops to throw them off and laugh at their expense. The Joker is frightening enough in concept but Ledger’s performance is down right terrifying. As he constantly licks his lips with self-assured cynicism, he cuts to the chase in every scenario. He has no time for any games other than the ones he orchestrates himself and commands control everywhere he goes. His idea of playing always involves games with the ultimate consequence and the highest of stakes. In order to win these games, you must reject what you know and become everything you denounce. Only winners will know the rewards of living both sides of the coin and the Joker is counting on fear to prevail so that he can finally have someone to play with.

Along with his brother, Jonathan, Nolan has crafted a dark, twisted dissection of duality and morality that is often shocking, unexpected and intricately detailed. In every superhero tale, everyone always wants to know the man behind the mask. The mask itself, the creation of another persona other than the one that sits safely behind it, initiates the duality that permeates the notion of the superhero figure. Batman is the dark knight. He only comes out at night and no one would suspect the man he is by day might be one and the same. The Joker’s chaos theory ruptures Batman’s controlled existence and forces him to think in a darker fashion than he has ever had to before. Thinking that darkly though can leave you stranded in that space and this is what the Joker is counting on. What makes THE DARK KNIGHT so rich is that almost every character has conflict and questions their actions and motivations. No answer is the clear right answer and deceit seems to play a role in even the most well-intentioned decisions. The greatest irony is that the darkest character actually has the purest of souls while the would be clown seems to have no soul at all. This is perhaps what makes them such worthy adversaries and why they both almost seem to enjoy the challenge.

When THE DARK KNIGHT feels like it might be ending, the anxiety mounts because you won’t want it to end. It has an enormous scope but is somehow still subtle. It is incredibly complex but yet still simple. The film itself is steeped in just as much duality as its hero. Nolan never loses control of his dualistic duty – to create a Batman film that pleases both the masses and the fans, that encompasses the grandness of a blockbuster with the darkness of the independent spirit and wows without resorting to cheap tricks. Once again, Nolan has grounded the sensational on a very firm footing by never allowing Batman to be anything other than a man. We can then stand on the same level ground as the giant bat and feel a satisfaction that is both real and incredible.


Written by Catherine Johnson
Music by Stig Anderson, Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd
Starring Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters and Stellan Skarsgard

Donna: Mamma Mia, here I go again. My, my, how can I resist you?

Let me tell you. Just because I’ve been listening to ABBA almost non-stop since I saw MAMMA MIA! two days ago does not mean I enjoyed the film all that much. It’s just the Swedish pop super group’s music is so darn infectious. You would think that energy would translate to a feel-great good time at the movies but sadly this is not the case. First time feature filmmaker, Phyllida Lloyd, spends far too much time dragging her feet when they should be dancing up and down the beach and no matter how many shots of the moonlight shimmering against the waves there are, the film is still a clunker instead of a stunner.

When a musical is paper thin on the stage, it runs the risk of being just plain silly on the screen. On the stage, MAMMA MIA! is a somewhat justified excuse to revive a bunch of ABBA tracks wrapped into a completely implausible, overly romantic farce. Young Sophie (played on screen by Amanda Seyfried) is but 20 and about to marry the very supportive and very handsome, Sky (Dominic Cooper). Something is missing though. Sophie has lived on this tiny Greek island her entire life and helped run a crumbling hotel with her mother, Donna (Meryl Streep) but she has never met her father. As far as she knows, he left before her mother could say anything to him but a chance encounter with her mother’s diary from the summer of her conception narrows the possible men to three. So rather than talk to her mother about her desire to know where she came from, she invites all three men (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard) to her wedding, pretending to be her mother looking for a reunion. Naturally all three men accept the invite and hijinks ensue. While the campiness of the whole affair is forgiven on stage because the suspension of disbelief doesn’t apply, this screen version is too far removed from the stage to feel the least bit plausible.

I believe in angels, something good in everything I see. And while there is very little good to focus on in MAMMA MIA!, at least there is always the surprising Streep. She jumps up and down on beds, slides down banisters without the least bit of concern for breaking her hip and she can sing too. Much like her turn in THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, Streep’s performance as the lonely mother of the bride carries the film forward and, in the show stopping “The Winner Takes It All”, elevates the film to heights it could never have achieved without her participation. Though the two don’t get nearly enough screen time together, Streep and Seyfriend make a great mother/daughter combo. Seyfried’s fresh exuberance seems like it might actually be inherited from her movie mom. The rest of the cast delivers varying results – Julie Walters clearly thinks she is a comic genius but she comes off too brash; Christine Baranski is miscast as an older bombshell making for some particularly awkward moments with younger men; and someone should ensure that Pierce Brosnan never sings on screen again.

Ultimately, MAMMA MIA! never connects all of its components. A melodramatic moment is followed by a peppy ABBA song, which somehow erases everyone’s pain. In that sense, ABBA’s music is the perfect choice to set the tone as it is some of the most depressing pop lyricism set to upbeat melodies in pop history. While the contrast adds weight to the songs themselves, the musical masking casts an air of falseness that never lifts on the film. What your left with is a compilation of poorly choreographed, plainly sung music videos. No offence, Meryl, but you are long past your MTV days.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


(Click above to watch WALL•E & EVE cut a rug)

“Out there!” The voice is odd at first, jarring but yet still charming. It has that tone, that unmistakable energy of a classical American musical. “There’s a world outside of Yonkers!” There it is again and as images of the vast universe that we are but a tiny part of grace the screen, you can agree with unbridled musical glee that there most certainly is a world outside of Yonkers. This is the experience had in the first few moments of Pixar’s WALL•E, which if you haven’t had yet, you must. You can even stay for the rest of the film. Why not? But what is actually out there? What is this place called “Yonkers” and what is this world outside of it?

The lyrics are from the song, “Put On Your Sunday Clothes”, taken from the Jerry Herman musical, HELLO, DOLLY! Originally produced on Broadway in 1964, the show was adapted for the screen in 1969. It was directed by none other than Gene Kelly, starred Barbra Streisand, Michael Crawford and Walther Matthau (yes, Matthau sang; no, he wasn’t any good), and went on to earn seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. Being the waste allocation load-lifter that he is, WALL•E happens across a videocassette copy of the film (proving that ultimately VHS will win the format war) while on the job and takes it home to add to his collection of earth stuff. HELLO, DOLLY! teaches little WALL•E about love.

Seeing as how WALL•E is the most unapologetically romantic robot I’ve ever known, I wanted to know what it was he learnt about love - to learn love through his eyes if you will - so I rented HELLO, DOLLY! and brought it home after a particularly grueling day. I’ve never been a big fan of Streisand myself (and Andrew Stanton, WALL•E’s human director, was wise to avoid using clips that included her signature vocals so as not to distract the viewer) but she certainly is a marvel to behold from the moment she makes her entrance. Streisand plays Dolly Levi, a matchmaker bent on matching her current unbelievably rich client with herself. Lucky for her, the man in question, Horace Vandergelder (Matthau), is in the marriage market. Only he’s looking for a woman to tend to his needs in the kitchen during the day and the bedroom at night. Let alone the film doesn’t age well (which does not bode well for poor WALL•E watching 700 plus years later), it treats love like a commodity, like a prize to be won and then put to good functional use. Was this the foundation of love that WALL•E based all of his ideals on?

It couldn’t be and it isn’t. “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” is sung by Crawford, as Cornelius Hackl, a man of 28 and ¾ who has never ventured out of Yonkers or even far past the store he minds for Vandergeldar. More importantly, he has never even kissed a girl. Essentially, the man hasn’t lived. He devises a plan to get him and his trusty sidekick out of Yonkers and into New York City (the world out there in question) and they won’t come home until they’ve kissed a girl. Like Hackl, WALL•E is just as isolated, alone on earth for centuries with only a cockroach for a friend. Like Hackl, WALL•E is longing for an adventure “out there”. And like Hackl, WALL•E has never kissed a girl.

HELLO, DOLLY! also teaches WALL•E about a simple human activity that he longs to experience. That activity is holding hands and the interaction on film is shared between Hackl and Irene Molloy (Marianne McAndrew) after one day and a musical exchange about falling instantly in love called “It Only Takes a Moment”. Fortunately for Stanton, this clip existed as it becomes integral to WALL•E’s story. And so Hakle and WALL•E share more in common than just loneliness. They are both hopeless romantics in pursuit of love above all. Both Hackl and WALL•E know that love can be as simple as you make it and its rewards are worth risking everything you have.

Finally, kudos to WALL•E for picking out the best parts of HELLO, DOLLY! The little bugger not only has the goods but he’s got the taste to back it up too. So follow wise WALL•E's inspiration and put on your Sunday clothes because there ain't no Monday in your Sunday clothes!

(That's the lyric ... from the song ... I'm not crazy ... watch for yourself ... click below.)

Source: Entertainment Weekly

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


It may not have been the kind of day that marks people but I still remember where I was when I first heard that Heath Ledger had died. It was nowhere special. I was just sitting at my desk at work when my brother called to tell me what he had just seen or heard or read on the news. It didn’t make any sense to me. It couldn’t possibly have been true. He must have been mistaken or the reports must have been overblown. And while the details surrounding Ledger’s death in the press certainly were blown out of proportion, my brother was definitely not mistaken about what he had seen, heard or read. The 28-year-old actor and father died of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs on January 22, 2008. A dark night, indeed.

I walked home stunned and, after pouring myself a generous glass of red, I settled into my couch to watch BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. I was compelled to do so. I somehow felt that by watching this modern classic that transformed Ledger from another pretty face in the crowd to a bonafide contender would keep him alive for a couple more hours. You know what? It did. Watching Ledger as Ennis Del Mar is like witnessing the miracle of life. The manner in which he mutters instead of talking, his tongue unconsciously twisting inside his mouth and the hushed self loathing that permeates through his squinted eyes stripped him of his charmer looks and revealed a calculated talent capable of creating great, new depths of character. Though Ledger had been seen on Hollywood screens for nearly ten years (ever since his eye catching turn in the Shakespearean teen adaptaion, 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU), it was his Oscar nominated performance in the revelatory BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN that made him a real star.

After his first taste of Hollywood success, the native Australian saw his career heading in a direction he wanted nothing to do with. When he saw his giant mug plastered across America and the world as the face of the medieval joust comedy, A KNIGHT’S TALE, he put on the brakes. He was offered the lead in the SPIDER-MAN series but turned it down because it simply wasn’t him. He wanted to make movies that spoke to him. The first signs of his emerging talent showed themselves in his brief part as a suicidal police officer in MONSTER’S BALL. He carried himself with such sadness and disappointment that I wondered how much of his depression was based in reality. The years that followed brought disappointments despite his best efforts but BROKEBACK opened his doors wide open. In the little seen, CANDY, Ledger shows that no movie is too small as long as the story is strong. His turn as a heroine junkie is somehow just as romantic as it is heartbreaking. Showcasing his delicate ability to balance duality yet again, Ledger plays Robbie in Todd Hayne’s Bob Dylan masterpiece, I’M NOT THERE. Again, Ledger makes the unlikable somehow still sympathetic. And just as all of the world’s eyes were turning toward him, he passed, leaving only one role left to be seen.

Of course, that last role will become infamous. It will be nearly impossible to take your eyes off of Ledger as the iconic Joker in Christopher Nolan’s second Batman feature, THE DARK KNIGHT. There is no way to know if the world would be buzzing as much as it is about Ledger’s performance had it not been his final one but the world is watching and that’s what he wanted. The Joker himself would probably find the whole thing quite amusing. Young kid makes good and finally learns to infuse his passion for the craft into the Hollywood machine but doesn’t live to see it unleashed. Oh, the irony. I like to think that Ledger is smiling too about the whole thing. After all, he went through such trials to divert our attention to the performance and not the person and, without him here, we will be forced to do just that.

Heathcliff Andrew Ledger
April 4, 1979 to January 22, 2008


Written by Rodney El Haddad, Jihad Ojeily and Nadine Labaki
Directed by Nadine Labaki
Starring Nadine Labaki, Yasmine Elmasari, Joanna Moukarsel and Gisele Aouad

Lebanon’s official submission for last year’s foreign language Oscar, CARAMEL, opens with waves of sugary goodness folding in and around itself. It is so enticing, so tempting. You just know it’s delectably delicious and the film that follows allows you to devour every bite without a single ounce of guilt. What you don’t know before you dive in is that this particular sweetness serves a functional purpose as hair removal product. And so the title outlines the film itself. CARAMEL tells the story of five Lebonese women in Beirut in a variety of compromising positions that might not be considered compromising at all if they lived outside of Lebanon. While it may at first seem like a “Sex and the City” derivative, CARAMEL quickly reveals a textured depth that doesn’t tie itself in a pretty designer bow before the credits roll.

Nadine Labaki is CARAMEL’s sweet, soothing center. The relatively new actress also co-wrote and directed the film. While this can sometimes mean more ego than excellence, Labaki shows immense promise, weaving just the right blend of sensitivity, saccharine and savvy into this first feature. Sadly, the DVD does nothing substantial to bring us any closer to this fresh face or her perceptive approach to the Lebanese female experience. A brief interview attempts to do so but ultimately reveals more about the interviewer’s Amerocentric perspective than Labaki’s. The rest of the supposed goodies (a French-only “making of” and a festival tour diary) are essentially musical montages that disclose nothing about the actual production.

The special features do nothing to enrich CARAMEL’s flavour but the film itself is the perfect eye candy. While it leaves a scrumptious taste in your mouth that satisfies long after you’re done, it’s savory sweetness will linger unexpectedly in your heart and mind.