Sunday, August 31, 2008

Black Sheep @ The 2008 Montreal World Film Festival

The Montreal World Film Festival attracts a very particular crowd. It is an appreciative crowd, both respectful and intelligent. For two weeks at the end of August every year, Montrealers craving truly international and independent fare have the opportunity to congregate and marvel at the best the world has to offer. As per usual, I caught what I could. I was pleasantly surprised by some and astonished by others. Good or bad, I was amongst my peers and the Montreal World Film Festival is a community well worth being counted amongst. Although, I must ask, who is in charge of their marketing? Look at that poster! Cats in glasses and hats? C'mon.

Festival head, Serge Losique, is notorious for disliking American fare and so, just like the previous years, this festival was very light on the kind of splashy Hollywood pictures that attract so many to the upcoming Toronto film festival. Still, Losique did manage a sizeable coup with the festival’s opening night selection, FAUBOURG 36. Hailing from France, as one might be able to deduce from the title, PARIS 36, as it is known in English, is Christophe Barratier’s second feature film and follow up to his international debut, LES CHORISTES. While his first feature effort was brazenly honest, direct and unexpectedly hopeful, FAUBOURG 36 is decidedly theatrical – appropriate considering its setting in a dying Parisian theatre. The vaudevillian players that run the show and weave in and out of corridors and dressing rooms know this space as if it were their home and fight for it, again as though it were their home, when it is shut down just before the start of the second world war. Actors don’t fight with guns though; they fight with words and songs and laughter. In order to save their own jobs and livelihood, a trio of amateurs do the only thing they know how to and put on a show. Barratier exerts a strong command of his extravagant picture, balancing delicately between the romanticism and idealism of realizing your dreams and the hardships and tension felt amongst the Parisian people during the trying time. My only true complaint is that the main plot is bookended by a murder that adds nothing and is far less interesting than the formal plight. It is as though the show comes back for one too many encores.

Losique may not like Hollywood productions but the American fare he finds sometimes is embarrassing. No offence to the well-intentioned cast and crew, most of whom were present for the screening I attended, but Ron Satlof’s MISCONCEPTIONS was so ridiculously off the mark that it had no business playing as part of the festival. I feel awful bad mouthing the lot of them because they were all so happy at the screening but it was a miracle I didn’t get up in the middle of it all and scream uncontrollably so I have to get this out before it gives me an ulcer. Nothing about this farce makes any sense. It opens at some Jesus picnic in the South somewhere. Two sisters are peddling their wares (a catering company called “Fishes & Loaves”) when one decides to carry a fertilized embryo that had been liberated from a lab where it would have been used for (gasp) stem cell research. The other can’t seem to get her husband to entertain the notion of another child after they lost their first child to some rare syndrome five years prior. It is this night that Jesus tells her in a prayer that finds her falling back on to the floor in Hallelujah-style ecstasy that she should seek out the interracial gay couple she saw on late night cable and carry their child for them. Considering how much Jesus hates gays in that part of the world, this is pretty shocking to her. This would also explain why she lies to her husband. Apparently, lying is a commandment that is only loosely followed. Let’s see, what else happens? Her husband flips out when he finally finds out and sues her for custody of the child that doesn’t belong to her. Her sister’s husband has an affair and she decides she wants nothing to do with the devil children she is carrying. Oh, and one of the gay guys (the costume designer/ choreographer) can’t find his Prada shoes when his boyfriend reminds him that he returned that gift. What self-respecting gay man would return Prada? Nonsense, through and through.

I returned home from the states to watch a Quebec-produced premiere, LE BANQUET. It was a red carpet affair, which meant that the general film going public, including the press apparently, had to sit on the upper levels of the theatre to make room for the industry to fill the entire first floor. Ordinarily, this would tick me off but I wouldn’t have wanted to have been any closer to this film from skilled Quebec director, Sebastien Rose. LE BANQUET is a bizarre experience. On the one hand, it is a technical marvel. The film moves so smoothly and Rose exerts a tight control over the numerous storylines that all revolve loosely around a particular Montreal university. The color shifts from soothing blue to sparse white and the editing between scenes or moments is so specific, calculated and executed perfectly. Still, for all its formal perfection, it is a very cold experience that is hard to appreciate simply because it is so heavy. Rose, who co-wrote the screenplay with his father, Hubert-Yves Rose, also a film director, explores the education system by asking pertinent questions. Is education really for everybody? Do universities just let anyone in these days as long as their cheques clear? Would increased tuition for students help elevate the level of education or simply make it impossible for those less fortunate to attend? While these are all relevant and intriguing questions, the answers are better discussed over dinner than on film. After all, this is not a documentary so how does one explore serious, political issues in a narrative setting? A lot of talking, that’s how – too much talking. With all its mechanical mastery, LE BANQUET is the TRAFFIC of the Quebec educational system without any of the emotional impact or future insight.

Sometimes, given the obscure unknown nature of the titles, all you can go on is the title itself. And when a film has a title like, THE CHICKEN, THE FISH AND THE KING CRAB, how can you pass it up? This documentary from Spain follows Spanish chef, Jesus Almagro, as he, his assistant and team of a dozen or so consultants prepare for the Bocuse d’Or, an international cooking competition held annually in Lyons, France. If I happened to be one of these people with hours upon countless hours of time to waste, I would spend a good chunk of them watching the Food Network so the idea of going behind the scenes of a cooking competition truly wet my appetite. Sadly, the cinematography in this film has got nothing on the popular television station. If I can’t eat it, I’d better be able to devour it with my eyes and this film, from Jose Louis Lopez-Linares, famed Spanish director and cinematographer, does nothing to get you salivating. Unlike other docs that focus on competitions, this one follows only the Spanish. There are occasional testimonials from other participants but nothing so extensive that you actually get a strong sense of what the world is cooking. Instead, with Spanish bearing the weight of the focus, we can only root for them to win. Spreading the love improves your chances of following a winner but narrowing the focus makes it all do or die. We do grow to love the earnest, Spanish chef but what we’re left to sit with is not a wide bouquet of flavor, rather it is a bittersweet after taste.

One of my favorite things about this festival is the unexpected surprise. There isn’t always a plethora of information available on each title so sometimes you’ve just got to leave it to fate. China’s PARKING was that picture for me this year. First time filmmaker and writer, Chung Mong-Hong, makes a strong mark with his startling debut. It isn’t perfect but its tone and originality are as striking as they are haunting. Popular Chinese actor, Chen Chang, plays Chen Mo, a man going through an extreme bit of bad luck. It is Mother’s Day and all he has to do is pick up some cake to bring home to his wife so that they can share a much needed night of intimacy and connection. He pulls up in front of the bakery and parks illegally. A few seconds later, another car pulls away and he decides to play it safe and park in the legal spot instead. It is a decision as basic as deciding to have a cigarette before sitting down to dinner but in this case, it changes his entire evening and maybe even his life. When he exits the bakery, another car has double parked next to him, making it impossible for him to get out. And so he meets a number of strangers as he looks for a way to get home. Mong-Hong creates a unique experience that is always unanticipated and always insightful. While his encounters are clearly meant to mean something greater than the way they appear on the surface, Mong-Hong makes no particular effort to infuse these meetings with meaning but rather allows the meaning to form in the minds of his audience. It occasionally veers slightly off course but the promise it shows more than compensates for any shortcomings. PARKING is a quiet film that creates fragile, complex spaces and leaves you wishing that he was never able to get his car out.

The festival has left me spent and with just enough time to prepare for Toronto. At least at Toronto, I won't have to think to much. Thanks for reading and I hope you had as much fun at the festival as I did.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


They say there's no such thing as bad press and German director, Uwe Boll, better hope they're right as Entertainment Weekly named him the worst contemporary film director on the planet (or something like that) earlier this year. Still, someone's got to like this guy as he keeps making movies. In fact he's got four more at various stages of production right now. His 2007 film, POSTAL, has just hit DVD and BLACK SHEEP REVIEWS is giving you the chance to win one of three copies of the film the New York Times calls "infantile, irreverent and boorish to the max." We've even got an added bonus, thanks to the good folks at Peace Arch Home Entertainment. If you win a DVD copy, you also get an autographed mini-poster from Uwe Boll himself!

Now I haven't seen this film so I'm not trying to push it on you. I am trying to push free stuff on you though. All you need to do is drop me an e-mail explaining why you love (or hate) Uwe Boll (a couple of sentences will suffice). Someone has got to defend this guy! Three winners will be picked at random from the entries and the best responses will be published on Black Sheep. Entries will be accepted until midnight on Monday, September 1, and the winners will be announced the next day. Be sure to include your contact info as well so that I can arrange for you to get your prize. (e-mail

Good luck and go!


Charles Marcil who wrote:
Two words ... videogames rock.

Christian Montpetit who wrote:
I could go on and on like the haters and say he's ruining movies and video games .... bla bla bla but I won't . Why ? Plain and simple, the dude's got BALLS. He has something in mind; he will do everything he can to do it. It may be by scamming the German government or by organizing boxing matches with his haters. I don't particularly love his movies as they are for the most part, entertaining at best but they are not total disasters like some are making it seem. What I think he lacks, is the ability to choose the right actors for the parts. So all in all , I will at one point or another watch all his movies but you won't see me @ the theatre to see them.

And Jason Hughes who wrote:
Uwe Boll is great if only because he's different. Fearless and often tasteless, the results are always interesting, something which the mainstream film industry sorely lacks.

Congratulations and thank you to all who participated. Winners will be contacted via e-mail.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Fall Foliage: November


I am not American but the majority of films I review are. For Americans, and I say that in a very broad sense, November is a month for thanks. It is also a month for spending and one of the last chances for Hollywood to unleash its big guns before the jolliest of holidays the following month. This doesn’t just mean big blockbusters like the new James Bond or that vampire movie all the kids are talking about. November is also the perfect occasion to platform potential award contenders, otherwise known as Oscar bait. And so, there is something for everyone at this Thanksgiving feast. So let us be thankful for all that we will receive.

In 2006, we gave thanks to director, Martin Campbell (GOLDENEYE), when he gave the world the new face (and body!) of Bond, Daniel Craig, and they both made it look so easy. CASINO ROYALE was smooth and satisfying to both Bond fans and neophytes alike. For the first time, Bond is back in a sequel instead of an entirely separate story. Now we give thanks for the next chapter, QUANTUM OF SOLACE, and while Craig is back for his second at bat, Campbell has bowed out to make room for Marc Forster (FINDING NEVERLAND). From the trailer, it would seem as though Bond is on his own to fight injustice and that his character is increasingly in question. I needn’t divulge any information on the plot (not that I have any really) because with stunts and shots as exciting and dynamic as the ones featured in the teaser, what does it even matter?

In 2005, we gave thanks to Ang Lee for giving the world a benchmark for not just gay themed cinema but all cinema, with his masterpiece, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. It was expected that Hollywood, as it always does, would jump on the film’s success and begin pumping out the gay stories for the masses. Only the complete opposite happened; what happened up on Brokeback, stayed up on Brokeback. Now, we can thank openly gay director, Gus Van Sant, for breaking the silence with his biographical account of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to political office. MILK is set is the late 70’s and features potential powerhouse performances by the young Emile Hirsch and James Franco as well as the Milk man himself, Sean Penn. Van Sant is not often overtly gay, thematically that is, in his films (the most notable and breathtaking exception would be his 1991 classic, MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO) but if he can pull MILK off, than I can perhaps think of forgiving him for PARANOID PARK. (No trailer available yet.)

It has been seven years since director, Baz Luhrmann, gave those that enjoy a good musical a great reason to be thankful with MOULIN ROUGE! While that film was a delightful overdose of colour and love, his latest, AUSTRALIA, is simply epic, if that can even be possible. To describe it, it sounds quite plain. Nicole Kidman plays a British aristocrat who has inherited an enormous cattle drive. When her land is threatened, she travels across 2,000 miles of terrifying terrain, only to end up in the middle of the second world war. The good news, she has handsome Hugh Jackman at her side for protection. To watch it though, is nothing plain at all (except in YouTube quality, of course). Luhrmann seems ready to stake his own claim as a serious director with a drastic departure and masterful turn of style (much like Paul Thomas Anderson did last year with THERE WILL BE BLOOD). The best part I’m sure is that he’s doing it all on his home turf.

I am personally thankful that I have not had to sit through a Jamie Foxx film of late. I marveled like the rest of the world at his compelling turn in RAY and enjoyed the understated counterpart performance in COLLATERAL. Then it all changed. He was everywhere and he was downright cocky about it. Now though, thanks to director, Joe Wright (ATONEMENT and PRIDE & PREJUDICE), I am ready to let him back in. In THE SOLOIST, Foxx plays a musical genius who ends us schizophrenic and homeless. While busking for change, he meets a journalist that will change his fate, played by 2008’s comeback kid, Robert Downey Jr. While it all sounds like it has no edge at all, I have total faith in Wright as he has yet to do any wrong and had the gall to cast actual homeless and mentally ill people as extras to ensure he had both authenticity and the most humble of performances from his cast. (No trailer available yet.)

And lastly, I am thankful that I grew up in the time of Anne Rice’s vampires and not those of the iPod generation’s, Stephanie Meyer’s vampires. After Harry Potter abandoned the Thanksgiving weekend spot for a tentpole position next July, TWILIGHT swooped in for the kill. The books are international successes and the film is highly anticipated but if it truly is a teen sensation, I suspect it will retreat back into the dark of night before the light of the following box office weekend. Can it play outside the teen market? Watch the trailer and judge for yourself.

Also in November … Ooh, Jason Statham in TRANSPORTER 3! What could possibly be more useless and uninteresting … Oh, right. How about Ben Stiller, Chris Rock and David Schwimmer all coming back to lend their voices to MADAGASCAR: ESCAPE 2 AFRICA … Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott search for deeper meanings to life in the testosterone driven comedy, ROLE MODELS … Both Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes recently passed away on the same weekend and eerily enough will be appearing in the same film, SOUL MEN … It’s a family Christmas in Chicago for John Leguizamo, Freddy Rodriguez and Debra Messing in NOTHING LIKE THE HOLIDAYS … John Travolta and Miley Cyrus lend their voices to Disney’s BOLT, in which a TV dog believes he’s the real deal … THE ROAD features Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron in a film based on a Cormac McCarthy novel? Stop, you got me … And finally, there is FOUR CHRISTMASES, where Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughan (who apparently struggled to get along on set) have to trek a trek I’m all too familiar with to visit four separate families on one joyous day.

I thought of one more thing to be thankful for … You, for reading.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Written by Dana Fox
Directed by Tom Vaughan
Starring Ashton Kutcher, Cameron Diaz and Rob Corddry

What happens in Hollywood does not often happen in the real world. Where else but in a Hollywood would any judge find legal justification to sentence two people who got married on a drunken whim in Vegas to six months “hard marriage”? Nowhere, that’s where. However, if you can get past the ludicrous nature of the premise, you’re in for a much lighter sentence. Newlyweds, Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher, are so darn likable that it’s pretty easy to look the other way (even easier when they make the view so pleasing on the eyes).

Kutcher and Diaz may be pretty; insightful though, they are not. The “Jackpot Edition” of this summer hit boasts a ton of extras, including a sit down with Ashton & Cameron, where they impart their infinite wisdom about relationships and just how insanely drunk one has to be to cross that line and marry a total stranger at your lowest moment. There are a number of finished deleted and extended scenes and a bloopers reel that essentially boils down to lots of cussing. But, wait! There’s more! Co-star Rob Corddry goes back to his satirical sketch roots with a purposefully horrible advertisement for legal advice (funny) while awkward cast member, Zach Galifianakis, interviews director Tom Vaughan (painfully unfunny). Ordinarily, I find director commentary on big budget Hollywood productions pretty unnecessary but Vaughan, along with editor, Matt Friedman, are so jovial that it is actually pretty entertaining to hear just how much stock photography they used.

It wouldn’t be Hollywood if Kutcher & Diaz didn’t both realize that the person they married might actually be their perfect match. All that WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS needs is Queen Latifah in some oddly suited, voice of reason role to give it some real kick. Oh wait, there she is.



Sunday, August 24, 2008

WEEKEND BOX OFFICE: Death Pulls Out of the Race

Ordinarily, a week with four major wide releases is unheard of. I suppose though when all four of those releases are not expected to do great business, there’s no harm in dumping them all at once. DEATH RACE, the one where Joan Allen slums it in a Jason Statham testosterone fest for a fat pay cheque, was expected to pull out in front but it was ultimately shut out by last week’s leftovers and a cute little Playboy bunny. Can you say emasculating?

The Ben Stiller comedy, TROPIC THUNDER stayed strong in first place. Out of the gate on Friday, the film was trailing the Anna Faris vehicle and unexpected box office draw, THE HOUSE BUNNY but a the boys came out in droves on Saturday, allowing for TROPIC THUNDER to pull out ahead. Still, THE HOUSE BUNNY take was better than expected, scoring the highest average of any film in release, and should move the very funny Faris up a few notches in the Hollywood standings. DEATH RACE trailed in third, earning a pretty mediocre $12 million. That’s double what his sleeper hit, THE BANK JOB, did last spring but people actually liked that one so I would expect this third place finish will be forgotten as soon as it steps off the podium next week.

This week’s other two wide releases barely registered. The Fred Durst directed, THE LONGSHOTS, in which Ice Cube coaches a little girl football team (can’t you hear the roar from the crowd?), barely broke the Top 10. At least he didn’t miss the Top 10 altogether, which for a major release, might as well mean you never had a release date. The Rainn Wilson vehicle, THE ROCKER, opened on Wednesday to get a head start and still came in last. The film’s average came in under a grand and it’s total of $2.75 million was only good enough for a 12th place finish. I’m pretty sure by Olympic standards, that means neither film even managed to qualify.

Woody Allen’s beautiful VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA couldn’t hold on to its spot in the Top 10 but it did hold on to 80% of its audience. Coming in at number 11, the film earned an average of $4,339, higher than most in the Top 10, for a total of $3 million. The film is well on track to be Allen’s biggest hit since MATCH POINT and could even surpass that if its expansion goes well. Also below the Top 10 – and also starring Penelope Cruz for that matter – the dry satire, ELEGY (also starring Ben Kingsley), added 86 screens to its theatre count and shot up over 800%. It’s per screen average ($5,466) is second only to THE HOUSE BUNNY and it performed better than the expensive Focus Features Sundance acquisition, HAMLET 2. The Steve Coogan laugher opened softly on 103 screens before its wider release next week but only pulled in half the house, with an average $4,223. It’s going to need some major word of mouth in order to fill the seats next weekend.

Speaking of NEXT WEEK: More August dumping … Vin Diesel must save the world in BABYLON A.D. A bunch of unknowns go to COLLEGE. Don Cheadle jumps on the terrorist bandwagon in TRAITOR. And the guys who brought you EPIC MOVIE and MEET THE SPARTANS (and who apparently never do anything other than make spoof films) are back with DISASTER MOVIE, where everything just watched this summer gets spit on. When is someone going to spit on them, man?


Written and Directed by Woody Allen
Starring Javier Bardem, Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, Patricia Clarkson and Penelope Cruz

Marie Elena: Only unfulfilled love can be romantic.

What could be more romantic than a summer vacationing is Barcelona? You’re surrounded by art, history and breathtaking scenery. You meet people you’ve probably never met before and will most likely never see again. You can immerse yourself in an entirely different culture, learning something new about life and yourself with every passing day. Or, you can leave your every woe from your difficult life behind you and let it all fall away into the ocean. In Woody Allen’s latest, VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA, Vicky and Cristina (Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson) do just that. Vicky is going to learn while Cristina follows in hope of escape and before the summer is out both will learn that that which is inherently romantic is also inescapably complicated.

Vicky and Cristina are the kinds of friends that would likely not become friends if they met at this present moment but are good friends regardless because of a long and cherished history. Vicky is practical to a fault. Everything she does has purpose and function, including her fiancĂ©, Doug (Chris Messina, who played the same “I am everything that is wrong with America today” character at the end of “Six Feet Under”). Cristina cannot stomach settling into herself, as she can’t stand that self, so she recklessly pursues paths of abandon in hopes of finding solace. They are opposite in everything they do, right down to their hair colors, but they find one common interest while abroad, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), a painter with a dramatic reputation. Juan Antonio is a player but he isn’t playing. He’s unassumingly smooth and sexy in shirts and pants that are dressed down by playful sneakers. He is a passionate man and his provocative proposal to have both ladies join him for a weekend of food, music and lovemaking brings out the American prude in both Vicky and Cristina.

Still, the vacation does everybody good, including Allen himself. Stepping out of New York and into London for his (brief) return to form, MATCH POINT, rejuvenated a vision that was once great but had recently become monotonously unwieldy. Going to the Barcelona country sides for his 40th feature has a similar effect, in that his vision is refreshingly alive. Still, it is different than the London Allen of late. In Barcelona, it feels as if Allen were on his own vacation. This is Woody in sandals, a loose fitting tee and khakis. Sure, he’s still neurotically smothered in sun block but his grip on the film is relaxed, more organic. In fact, the film’s underlying criticism of American materialism and structure suggest that Allen is happy to be away for a while. Besides, if he weren’t overseas, he might not have had the chance to work with Penelope Cruz. Cruz plays Marie Elena, Juan Antonio’s ex-wife who tried to kill him before ultimately leaving him. Her insanity and is eluded to so often before she actually graces the screen that by the time she does, one shakes with anticipation for her arrival. Cruz’s presence is overwhelming, a tumultuous force that commands attention and can either destroy or nurture from one moment to the next. She elevates the overall quality of the film to exciting heights and it was already pretty great before she got there.

After years of troubled relationships both on and off screen, Allen is still going back for more despite it all. Having been around a few blocks though has given the man a fair amount of insight. He may not know what makes the perfect recipe but he’s still in the kitchen cooking because he knows that when you do get all the ingredients just right, you’re in for one hell of a good meal. He throws all of his characters into the fire knowing full well they will all get burned but that they will also all be better people for it. For all its complications, love or sex or however you choose to define your interaction with another human being (or with two or three for that matter) will ultimately transform you. The same can be said for VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA, a flame well worth getting close to.

Friday, August 22, 2008


Have you caught the latest issue on Entertainment Weekly? I'm a big fan of the magazine but I can't help but snicker at them as Harry Potter's Daniel Radcliffe graces the cover of their fall movie preview despite having been moved to July of next year. It is especially amusing considering both Potter and the magazine are both owned by Time Warner. Meanwhile, Potter's move has affected a number of major relases dates. The highly anticipated vampire flick, TWILIGHT has capitalized on the shift by moving their release date up from December to the American Thanksgiving frame. And the latest James Bond pic, QUANTUM OF SOLACE, has moved from November 7th to the 14th, as it was originally giving itself more distance from Potter. I guess the vampires scare Bond a lot less than the wizard.
Source: Variety

Recent Best Picture/Writer/Director Oscar winners, Joel & Ethan Coen are just about to unveil their latest star-studded offbeat comedy, BURN AFTER READING. The film stars George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich and Tilda Swinton, to name a few. And while the Coens have always had an ease attracting top name talent to their projects, they have decided to go in a completely opposite direction next time out. Their next project, entitled A SERIOUS MAN, revolves around one man in 1967 whose life falls apart when his wife announces she's leaving and his inept brother will not leave and the two leads have been officially cast. The protagonist will be played by Tony winner, Michael Stuhlbarg and his annoying brother will be played by television actor, Richard Kind. That's some serious casting for A SERIOUS MAN.
Source: Ioncinema

On August 29th, Universal Pictures will issue a new version of their international smash, MAMMA MIA! Select theatres nationwide will begin screening a special Sing-Alone version of the ABBA musical. Just what this movie needs, more amateur voices singing in imperfect harmony. Check the film's official site for details regarding whether or not you'll be able to belt out "Super Trooper" in your city.
Source: Mamma Mia official website

The Toronto International Film Festival is certainly one of the world's most prominent and for 10 days in September, the city resembles a Canadian version of Hollywood. I am fortunate enough to be attending the festival for a few days and these are just a few of the 500 confirmed guests I could randomly bump into in between screenings: Adrien Brody, Alec Baldwin, Alicia Keys, Anne Hathaway, Ben Kingsley, Benicio del Toro, Brad Pitt, Charlize Theron, Christopher Walken, Claire Danes, Cynthia Nixon, Edward Norton, Ethan & Joel Coen, Garl Garcia Bernal, Guy Ritchie, Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Hudson, Jessica Biel, Matt Damon, Michael Cera, Sir Michael Caine, Spike Lee, Steven Soderbergh, Tilda Swinton, Viggo Mortensen and Wong Kar Wai. Oh, and I almost forgot the piece de resistance ... Zan Efron!! For a complete list of guests and films, visit the festival website.
Source: TIFF

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Fall Foliage: October


Boo! It’s October and that means time for scares that make the hair on the back of your neck stand straight up. (By the way, you should really do something about that.) And so, the second part in Black Sheep’s three part preview of the fall film schedule should focus on what Hollywood has planned to make you pee your pants. There’s only one problem with this though. I don’t care much for scary movies. In fact, I try to avoid them whenever I can and there is no reason why that should be any different in this article. I’ll try my best to grow a pair for next year. In the meantime, how about a different kind of scare?

What could be scarier than adorably awkward it-boy, Michael Cera (JUNO, SUPERBAD), roaming around New York City all night with a girl he just met? Alright, maybe everything but you’ll be hard pressed to find something more endearing and real than NICK & NORA'S INFINITE PLAYLIST. From the trailer, it looks as though Cera is ready to give us another fresh take on disastrously uncomfortable social interaction and he’s going to give it to us in the underground New York punk scene, well, at least some of the less hardcore corners of the scene. This boy meets girl, boy pretends to be girl’s boyfriend for five minutes, boy and girl inevitably fall hopelessly in love over the span of one night story should keep the indie crowd infinitely giddy.

I know this one is scary. This one is about religion (cue scary ghost noises and eerie organ music). Infamously frightening fella, at least to politicians in his past life as a television pundit, Bill Maher takes on organized religion in RELIGULOUS. No religion is left unscathed in this guerilla-style documentary from BORAT director, Larry Charles. Given that Maher himself is an atheist, you know that his cup of sarcasm will runneth over. The only question left to be answered is not whether God exists but rather whether the film going public will turn to follow Maher as their new God.

Fear doesn’t only happen when someone jumps out from behind the bushes and lunges at you with a bloody meat cleaver. Just ask Robert Deniro and Barry Levinson. They know a whole other kind of fear. Like the fear that happens when you sink millions of dollars into a big tongue and cheek Hollywood picture and it doesn’t find domestic distribution after playing prominently at two high profile film festivals. Reactions to WHAT JUST HAPPENED? (a question I’m sure both veterans were asking themselves after each of the festivals in question) had not been beaming but the film, a tale of two weeks in the life of a failing Hollywood producer, has been through a couple of facelifts and is now ready for its public.

THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, now that was scary. So we can certainly count on the Oscar-winning director of this 1991 classic to deliver some intense psychological fear with his latest, RACHEL GETTING MARRIED. Alright, I’m stretching again but it will definitely be at the very least unwieldy when black sheep (sorry, I had to), Kym (Anne Hathaway) returns from rehab to attend her sister’s nuptials. Demme looks to be keeping his approach simple with an indie-tinged flavour while Hathaway continues to assert herself as major player in young Hollywood. She could miss the mark entirely with this dark turn but I for one am curious to see if she can actually pull it off. Academy Award nominee, Anne Hathaway … now that’s scary.

I think I finally got it. This is definitely frightening. Imagine you started a promising career as a filmmaker. Your first film, let’s call it LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS was an international indie smash that captured the attention of Hollywood, making it possible to snag the likes of Brad Pitt for your follow up, uh, let’s say it’s called, SNATCH. North American audiences eat it up and you’re sitting pretty until you decide to indulge in the ultimate vanity project, a remake of an Italian classic, maybe SWEPT AWAY, starring your pop superstar wife. The problem here is that your infamous wife is the Hollywood equivalent of the a black cat walking underneath a giant ladder being used to clean up the 13 mirrors you just broke. You are now the laughing stock of the film industry and before you know it, your name goes from Guy Ritchie to Madonna’s husband. Well, Mr. Ritchie has found himself a chance at redemption with a return to his Brit-gangsta roots in ROCKNROLLA. Scoring Gerard Butler for the lead should fare better for him, I think.

Also in October … Walt Disney goes to Taco Bell in BEVERLY HILLS CHIHUAHUA … Dennis Quaid takes on college ball and prejudice all at once in THE EXPRESS … Simon Pegg continues to woo North American audiences in HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS & ALIENATE PEOPLE … MONSTER HOUSE director returns with a family take on a human race gone underground in CITY OF EMBER … QUARANTINE continues the trend of faux reality low budget video work called film … SEX DRIVE is another teen sex comedy, this time the hero is in a big donut costume … Ridley Scott, Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, BODY OF LIES, period … Greg Kinnear takes on the big automobile company after they steal his prototype for windshield wipers in FLASH OF GENIUS (clearly not referring to the decision to make this movie … Mark Wahlberg joins the gaming generation in MAX PAYNE … George W. Bush meets Oliver Stone in W. … Dakota Fanning and Jennifer Hudson are on the run in THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES … The whole gang is back for their first time on the big screen in HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 3 … Angelina Jolie hopes to have some of Clint Eastwood’s Oscar gold rub off on her in CHANGELING … It wouldn’t be Halloween if it weren’t for SAW V … THE BROTHERS BLOOM boasts a great cast (Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel Weisz) despite a not so great plot (con-men siblings) … A freaky mystery revolves around Anne Hathaway in PASSENGERS … Edward Norton and Colin Farrell are both brothers and cops in PRIDE AND GLORY … CROSSING OVER is an ensemble piece starring Harrison Ford and Sean Penn … Famed writer, Charlie Kaufman (ADAPTATION) tackles directing in SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK … And on Halloween itself, perpetually amateurish director, Kevin Smith tackles the porn industry with ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO.

Next week, November is a time for thanks.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Director Series: WOODY ALLEN

(in celebration of Vicky Cristina Barcelona)

VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA marks Woody Allen’s 40th feature film. In honour of the little man with the enormous influence, Black Sheep Reviews presents its first ever director series. Allen has always strived to produce one film per year and while working all the time might alleviate some of his neuroses with mortality, it doesn’t always make for great cinema. Still, there is no denying Allen’s unique cinematic voice and his place amongst the greatest directors of all time.

His recent offerings have been spotty at best, with exceptions like his aforementioned latest as well as the modern masterwork, MATCH POINT, standing out as reminders of his genius. And so Black Sheep Reviews looks back for a moment at three of his most distinguished offerings, HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986), ANNIE HALL (1977) and MANHATTAN (1979), while still looking forward to what Allen has planned for the future.

As a writer, Allen gets to take all of the thoughts in his head and throw them up on the screen for the world to over analyze. In HANNAH AND HER SISTERS, he gives us a handful of characters and lets us into their heads instead. The simple argument there would be how all of Allen’s characters are essentially extensions of his own psyche but this particular film is so feminine that it transcends his trademark intellectual masturbation. Hannah (Mia Farrow) has it all, or so it would seem from an observer’s point of view. She left a successful acting career on the stage to have children and raise her family. Her sisters on the other hand (Dianne Wiest and Barbra Hershey) can’t seem to get it in line and rely heavily on her stability. Only, while she picks up their messes, she keeps her own inside and everyone assumes that she’s just fine. Even Allen makes the same mistake, as he doesn’t give her as much screen time as the others, presuming they need the attention more. Just because you can take care of yourself though doesn’t mean you don’t have fears. Luckily, anything can be rationalized away in our own heads.

From the internal to the explicitly external nine years prior, Allen gave the world his masterpiece, ANNIE HALL. For me, there is no other picture that has better captured the dynamics of a difficult relationship than the story of Alvy Singer (Allen) and Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). At this stage in his career, he felt that he wanted to take steps toward more deeper, personal films. The fourth wall is constantly being broken, split screens allow characters to comment on each others’ dialogue without having to be there, and Allen even elevated his cinematic approach with long, continuous shots with characters coming in and out of the frame. Allen chooses to reveal the details –good, bad or transplendent – of the central relationship entirely out of sequence. This way, we get to see all the parts as one, allowing for a more profound understanding of how these two individuals came together and what eventually drove them apart. Allen has never been more celebrated than with this film and never has he deserved it more. His decisions are brave and his honesty is refreshing and revealing. ANNIE HALL is timeless.

Two years after winning the Oscars for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay for ANNIE HALL, Allen gave us MANHATTAN. It is no secret that Allen is a devout New Yorker and he opens this film as though it were a cinematic love letter to his hometown. Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” is the soundtrack to the opening sequence, which, in charcoal tinged black and white, frames countless New York spots, both known to tourists and known to locals only. The whole while, Allen’s character, Isaac Davis, narrates in voice over about how he and the city are intrinsically linked in order to establish the first chapter and tone of his book. What follows is the fodder of that book – an exploration of the ethical decline of perhaps humanity, but more specifically, New Yorkers. It is Davis’s belief, and one that he is not immune to, that Manhattanites create dramatic scenarios in their lives in order to avoid feeling anything genuine with themselves or another person – that Manhattan itself offers so much distraction that one isn’t capable of returning one’s focus back to what is right in front of them. This is, after all, where one can find all the answers if one can stop long enough to look.

Woody Allen likes to make his quips about the banalities of television or the superiority of New York over Los Angeles or the ridiculous nature of awards. He comes across as neurotic, overly cerebral and pessimistic but when you really spend some time with him, or at least the versions of him he gives us in his films, you realize that this isn’t entirely true. He is in fact overly neurotic and only slightly cerebral. Kidding, it’s just a little a joke for one of my favorite jokers. In all seriousness though, to call him a pessimist is prematurely dismissive. After all, would a pessimist keep trying as hard as Allen does to understand?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

WEEKEND BOX OFFICE: The Dark Knight Undone by a Tropical Storm

It had to happen eventually. There was only so long it could sit there so comfortably, balking at all who attempted to take it down. First came STEP BROTHERS but they had to settle for the bottom bunk. Then came THE MUMMY 3 but it had to settle an economy-size tomb. Then it seemed certain that PINEAPPLE EXPRESS would smoke him out but they had to settle for the leftover roach. This week though, THE DARK KNIGHT could only do so much to weather the storm as Ben Stiller’s TROPIC THUNDER seized the top box office spot after THE DARK KNIGHT’s phenomenal four-week stay.

TROPIC THUNDER opened on Wednesday to somewhat promising results and went on to capture the weekend frame with a five-day total of just over $37 million. This is a few less than last week’s PINEAPPLE EXPRESS but as most critics, excluding this one, prefer TROPIC THUNDER over PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, it should suffer less of a decline than the Judd Apatow-produced stoner flick did in its second week. I guess it isn’t always that easy to get the stoners out of the house.

THE DARK KNIGHT does still get some bragging rights this week as it schooled not one but two Star Wars pics. First of all, the new animated STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS had to settle for third place behind the bat. The mediocre opening could signal the decline of the series’ popularity but with plans to re-release all of the original films yet again in 3D, George Lucas shows no signs of letting go. More importantly though, at $471 million total gross, THE DARK KNIGHT has surpassed the original STAR WARS ($460 million) as the second highest grossing film in North American history. It has a ways to go to beat TITANIC’s $600 million but if we all go see THE DARK KNIGHT like five more times each, I’m sure we can do it! C’mon people!

A handful of other films opened this week to varying results. The Keifer Sutherland scarefest, MIRRORS, opened in fourth with a barely frightening $11 million. Another 3D-pusing propaganda pic, the animated FLY ME TO THE MOON, opened below the Top 10 with a measly $2 million. Still, it only opened of 452 screens, which is abnormally low for a family film but I doubt this space bug movie will take off in the weeks to come. Apparently, the face of Jesus appearing on the side of stucco wall was of little interest to anyone as HENRY POOLE IS HERE opened dismally with a per screen average of $1500 on 527 screens. Perhaps the most disappointing reception was for Woody Allen’s latest, VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA. Well, it did well, especially for an Allen movie. Opening larger than usual on 692 screens, the film cracked the Top 10 but I expected the buzz to generate a higher per screen average $5300. Word of mouth is all it has now and with mouths as beautiful as Penelope Cruz’s and Scarlet Johansson’s, the future could still be bright.

NEXT WEEK: The summer is winding down and the pickings are getting pretty slim. The widest release next week is the Wednesday bow of THE ROCKER, followed by THE HOUSE BUNNY and DEATH RACE. And if convict drag racing, over-aged rock stars or ditzy blondes don’t do it for you, well there’s always the Ice Cube family film, THE LONGSHOTS. Long shot, indeed.

Source: Box Office Mojo


Written by Justin Theroux and Ben Stiller
Directed by Ben Stiller
Starring Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black, Jay Baruchel and Steve Coogan

Tugg Speedman: Are you really just going to abandon this movie? We're supposed to be a unit.
Kirk Lazarus: Suck my unit.

Hollywood is hilarious. They’ve got agents ready to cover up dead hookers upon demand and actors with mandatory Tivo in their contracts. They’ve even got heads on the ends of rifles and people biting into live bats. Wait. That isn’t funny. It’s just plain dumb. There’s a fine line between crazy funny and scalping a panda you just killed to wear on your head. TROPIC THUNDER never figures out how to walk that line, falling on either side of it for some pretty uneven results.

In his first directing gig since the, and I can’t believe I’m writing this, infinitely more cohesive, ZOOLANDER, Ben Stiller takes a bunch of pampered actors and drop them in the middle of Vietnam so that they can shoot the greatest war movie ever (as if APOCAPLYPSE NOW would just crawl into a ditch with a live grenade or something). It’s funny in theory, sure, but even Stiller drops the concept early in. With the plot left behind, the men are left to trip over each other in the jungle, which is occasionally cool given that Robert Downey Jr. and Jack Black are fine company to keep but mostly it’s just meandering. I think they’re trying to make it home but who cares really when we keep cutting back to a bald headed, furry-chested, Tom Cruise as a Hollywood executive who just loves telling people to (bleep) themselves whenever he feels like. (Seriously though, he’s pretty funny.)

Thank you, Ben Stiller, for showing me just how hilarious Hollywood likes to think it is and for reminding me just how far out of step it is with the rest of the world. One minute, you’re laughing hysterically at them. The next, they’re the only ones in on the joke and they’re laughing all by themselves. Lucky for them, most of their laughing happens all the way to the bank.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Fall Foliage: September


Summertime. Who doesn’t love it? Countless hours roasting at the beach, just swirling your tongue around a chocolate covered waffle cone, making sure that every last bite of that sweet, soft vanilla ice cream makes it into your hot mouth. And if your imagination happens to be running wild under the influence of a mild heat stroke, you can always seek shelter in a cool, dark auditorium for a big, summer movie. You like strapping superheroes? You got it! You like babes and bombs? It’s all waiting for you! If you’re anything like me though, you see the summer as just a few months of mostly mindless distraction designed to pass the time before the fall. Fall is a time for prestige and pedigree, thought and revelation. Fall is a time for cerebral celebration. And while summer is not quite done with us yet, the fall is just around the corner. Over the next few weeks, Black Sheep will be looking at each of the coming months, one by one, and highlighting the most exciting films to be appearing amidst the changing leaves. So as not to get too far ahead of ourselves, how about we begin with September?

Last fall brought us the eventual Oscar winner and 2007 Mouton d'Or winner for Best Picture, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, by the infamous writer/director siblings, Joel & Ethan Coen. This September, the brothers are back and while there is little to no Oscar buzz this time around, the cool factor that used to surround every project they were involved with is finally back after a string of disappointments. BURN AFTER READING is certainly lighter in tone than their last picture as two dodgy gym employees decide to use a computer disc containing potential CIA secrets they find in a changing room as leverage to get what they want out of life. As per usual, all the stars, from Clooney to Malkovich, to Swinton, McDormand and Pitt are out for the occasion.

Opening the same weekend, “Murphy Brown” writer, Diane English’s THE WOMEN looks to continue the trend of successful female driven pictures that proved themselves and then some this summer (see SEX AND THE CITY and MAMMA MIA!). A remake of the 1939 classic, English has rounded up a stellar cast that includes Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Jada Pinkett Smith, Debra Messing and Eva Mendes. If English pulls it off, this could be the picture that finally gets Bening her Oscar and even more impressively, gets America to fall back in love with Meg Ryan.

You would think that winning an Academy Award for writing a screenplay that genuinely struck a chord with audiences or creating a groundbreaking television series that forced people to face death in a whole new way would be plenty to get your first directorial effort sold in no time. Apparently not so. Alan Ball, the writer of AMERICAN BEAUTY and creator of “Six Feet Under”, screened TOWELHEAD at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival and it was days before it was bought up by the now defunct Warner Independent. At the time, it was called NOTHING IS PRIVATE but when it resurfaced at this year’s Sundance festival, it had gone back to the title of the novel it was based on.

Spike Lee is still making joints and not pictures but they are nothing like his earlier work. Or so it would seem on the surface. His later works might have a greater reach after mainstream success like THE INSIDE MAN but Lee is still fighting for the cause of the African-American people just by making sure they are front and center and getting their stories told in a fashion that is neither exploitative nor watered down for a wider audience. MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA is a fresh WWII story about a battalion of black soldiers that only gets heard in 1984, after a postal worker who served in that same battalion commits a seemingly inexplicable murder.

The month closes with a throwback to the summer time. Not every fall movie is Oscar bait. Believe it or not, some people still want to have an explosive good time. Enter Shia LaBeouf in EAGLE EYE. This terrorist thriller reteams LaBeouf with the director that propelled him to stardom. No, I’m not talking about the Shia-obsessed, Steven Spielberg, but rather DISTURBIA director, D.J. Caruso. LaBoeuf, along with blossoming starlet, Michelle Monaghan, unwittingly become roped into a terrorist plot that I’m sure they will be desperately trying to foil. This production was a bit of a rush, has many a writer to its credit and was pushed back from an earlier August release date. Ordinarily these would all be very bad signs but LaBeouf is the hottest young star on the planet so if anyone can change the direction of the harsh fall wind, he can.

Also in September … Nicolas Cage kills for money in BANGKOK DANGEROUS … Box-office golden boy, Tyler Perry takes a road trip in THE FAMILY THAT PREYS … Al Pacino and Robert Deniro reteam to the delight of every man’s inner boy in RIGHTEOUS KILL … Samuel Jackson torments his beautiful new mixed race neighbours (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington) in LAKEVIEW TERRACE … Keira Knightly throws on her best Victorian wig in THE DUCHESS … As previously reported, CITY OF GOD director, Fernando Meirelles gives us a world without sight in BLINDNESS … Actor Ed Harris directs for the first time since POLLACK with the western, APPALOOSA … John Cusack voices the little guy who finally demands his glory in IGOR … One of Hollywood’s favorite writers, David Koepp, returns to directing with GHOST TOWN, a vehicle for Ricky Gervais where he can talk to dead people … Rachel McAdams, Tim Robbins and Michael Pena are a trio of soldiers road tripping through a homeland they no longer recognize in THE LUCKY ONES … and Richard Gere and Diane Lane reunite for love in the Nicholas Sparks adaptation, NIGHTS IN RODANTHE.

Tune in next week to see how Hollywood intends to scare the crap out of you in October!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Black Sheep Previews: BLINDNESS

In 2002, Brazilian director, Fernando Meirelles burst on to the world cinema scene with his international sensation CITY OF GOD. His direction and approach were hailed as brave and striking. The film garnered four unexpected Oscar nominations, including one for the director himself.

In 2005, he returned with his first English language film, THE CONSTANT GARDENER, based on the John le Carre novel. Ralph Fiennes starred as a widower determind to get to the bottom of his wife's murder, no matter how deeply he became involved in the bowels of corporate secrecy. Another four Oscar nominations followed, including a win for supporting actress, Rachel Weisz.

Now that another three years has passed, Meireilles hopes for a third success with his most ambitious project to date, BLINDNESS. The film opened this year's Cannes film festival and is finally making its way into North American theatres this September. The radiant Julianne Moore plays the wife of a doctor who is mysteriously unaffected by a plague of white blindness that has spread across the globe and crippled humanity. From the looks of the trailer, Meirelles has created a frightened and panicked tone that echoes throughout every element of the film, from the performances to the washed out visual aesthetic. The cast is rounded out by Mark Ruffalo, Gael Garcia Bernal and Sandra Oh and the screenplay was written by Tony Award winner, Don McKellar (THE RED VIOLIN), adapted from Nobel prize winner, Jose Saramago's contemporary classic. With all this talent behind the project, BLINDNESS is almost certain to bring Meirelles another handful of Oscar nominations to add to his collection. At the risk of sounding incredibly lame, I would say that BLINDNESS definitely looks worth seeing.

Click on the title anywhere in this article for more on BLINDNESS.

Also, be sure to check back tomorrow for part one of Black Sheep's official fall film preview.


Written and Directed by Stefan Ruzowitski
Starring Karl Markovics, August Diehl and Devid Streisow

This year’s Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film, THE COUNTERFEITERS, made its way from Austria to North American theatres last spring and now finds a welcome resting place on home video. A jittery camera captures a nervewracking experience for wanted counterfeiter, Salomon Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics). After being caught by the Berlin authorities, Sorowitsch is sent to a Nazi concentration camp. His special talents get him assigned to the “cushiest” barracks on site so that he and a group of other supposedly fortunate prisoners can manufacture the money needed to fund the war against their own people. Their beds may be softer and the shower chambers may actually be for showering but it is still a camp no matter how you dress it up and you can only hide from the horrors happening on the other side of the fence for so long.

THE COUNTERFEITERS is an exceptional film that found equally exceptional success in theatres and is now an exceptional DVD. It debuted in theatres the same week it took home the Oscar and continued to expand until April when it played on a total of 170 screens. Each week it posted gains and went on to gross a total of $5.5 million for a worldwide total of $17 million. The film’s financing successes and Oscar win have allowed for an expansive DVD that is as thorough as it is insightful. Writer/Director, Stefan Ruzowitzky, gives an impressive commentary that is everything one could hope for. He speaks non-stop as though he has far too many things to say and not enough time to say it. He goes back and forth between discussing the filming, the locations, the music and the history behind this moving story. Other special features include a 10-minute “making of”, a Q&A with Ruzowitzki at the American Film Institute screening, deleted scenes – essentially everything you would expect from a high profile Hollywood feature but what is so often missing on smaller gems like THE COUNTERFEITERS. In what is perhaps the most affecting feature, there are 20 minutes with Adolf Burger, the now 90-year-old survivor, whose memoirs the film is based on, where Burger talks about his experiences and illustrates his points with artifacts from his time in captivity.

THE COUNTERFEITERS is at times horrific but not so much so that it is too difficult to watch. In fact, the film allows for a certain respect for both its characters and the audience that makes it possible to appreciate the plight of these men. What comes through is the struggle between survival of the individual versus the salvation of many and how being in control of that kind of decision is dreadful no matter how you dress it. THE COUNTERFEITERS DVD and all it offers only further makes the forgery a reality.


WEEKEND BOX OFFICE: Pineapples and Pants

I thought for sure this would be the week. It was pretty amazing last weekend when a franchise as big as THE MUMMY 3 couldn’t beat it but you’ve got to fall sometime. With two brand new, anticipated films debuting in wide release, I figured THE DARK KNIGHT was a goner but I was mistaken. Despite grossing ahead of the bat on Friday, PINEAPPLE EXPRESS was unable to keep its hold throughout the weekend, allowing THE DARK KNIGHT to pull in another $26 million and remain the king of the box office for a fourth weekend in a row.

PINEAPPLE EXPRESS debuted Wednesday to the biggest August Wednesday opening of all time. This might sound impressive but really, we’re talking about $12 million here. THE DARK KNIGHT made $18 million in its first Wednesday, five days after its initial release. Still, it isn’t fair to compare any film to THE DARK KNIGHT. In total, PINEAPPLE EXPRESS has earned just over $40 million in five days. Compared to past Apatow productions, PINEAPPLE EXPRESS has earned more in five days than all but SUPERBAD, including the $200+ million grossing KNOCKED UP and this year’s FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL. This proves it; audiences love schleppy guys who sit around talking smack. When will the Apatow tide turn?

This week’s other major release is the sequel, THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS 2. Now I am not a teenage girl so this movie has zero appeal for me but though the girls didn’t come out in HANNAH MONTANA numbers, the film still built on its predecessor. The film is tracking about $4 million ahead of the last film’s 5-day take and will likely top out at about $50 million if all holds well. Given the first film’s modest take and the equally modest take of the sequel, I’m still not sure why these pants are seeing more of the world than I am.

There are two films outside the Top 10 that pulled in higher averages than any film in the Top 10. The first is the Ben Kingsley/Penelope Cruz spring/fall romance, ELEGY Debuting on six screens, the film pulled in a per screen average of $17K. The second is the Patti Smith documentary, DREAM OF LIFE. The film is playing on just one little screen and pulled in over $8K on average. I guess Patti would appreciate the smaller platform. Also making an impression on people’s taste buds is the winemaking ensemble piece, BOTTLE SHOCK. Bowing on 48 screens and featuring a cast as diverse as Alan Rickman and Bill Pullman, the film pulled in over $6K per screen and will be expanding its tasting next week.

Meanwhile, on the expansion front, a couple of promising possibilities seem to be stalling. While both BRIDESHEAD REVISITED and AMERICAN TEEN saw their grosses blow up over 200% last week, this week, they each saw declines as they continued to expand. Then there’s MAN ON WIRE. This documentary about tightrope walker, Philippe Petit, is treading very slowly across its own wire, expanding by 55 screens this week and subsequently posting an increase of over 450%. Distributor Magnolia best not get too aggressive; it’s a long way to fall.

NEXT WEEK: TROPIC THUNDER, the APOCALYPSE NOW style, comedic spoof starring and directed by Ben Stiller looks like it will finally take down the bat as it opens early on Wednesday. Keifer Sutherland is back in theatres in the horror, MIRRORS. George Lucas continues to squeeze every last drop of Star Wars gold with the animated CLONE WARS. More importantly though, Woody Allen is back with VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA. Let’s see if great buzz and a much talked about kiss between Penelope Cruz and Scarlet Johansson can help it beat the big guys despite opening on a fraction of the screens.

Source: Box Office Mojo

Black Sheep Previews: HAMLET 2

HAMLET 2. The concept is hilarious. Didn't everyone die at the end of Shakespeare's timeless classic, you might ask. Well, yes, they did. It was a tragedy, after all. No matter though as this is not exactly a sequel to the bard's work. Nor is it a sequel to the Mel Gibson or Ethan Hawke film versions from recent years. In fact, it is not a sequel at all. The name, HAMLET 2, refers to a musical that is to be performed, and from the looks of the previews, performed very badly, by the hopeful high school students of a Tucson drama club.

HAMLET 2 stars British actor/comedian, Steve Coogan, as a washed up actor who has decided to turn lemons into lemonade by teaching the young about the craft. While this is all very noble, the underlying problem is that he is just as good at teaching as he was at acting, which is to say not at all. Coogan strives to be the kind of teacher that makes students stand up on desks and salute him or rip out pages from great literary classics to follow in his protest but he is far too deep into his own delusions to see that he is a complete mess. His swan song is to be this great musical but all he musters is controversy. I suppose he should have seen it coming with numbers like, "Rock Me Sexy Jesus."

The cast is rounded out by Catherine Keener, David Arquette and Elizabeth Shue (in a hilariously self-referential turn as herself in present day, having left the craziness of Hollywood and started a new life as a nurse at this Tucson school). The potential is in place and with Pam Brady, co-writer of TEAM AMERICA and the SOUTH PARK movie assisting writer/director, Andrew Fleming, the possibility for laugh out loud hilarity is even greater. Who knows? If it does real well, we could be seeing HAMLET 3 before you know it.

HAMLET 2 is in theatres August 22.

Click here or any of the links above to see "Rock Me Sexy, Jesus" and the HAMLET 2 trailer.

Saturday, August 09, 2008


Written and Directed by Nanette Burstein

Jake Tusing: My life sucks right now but what if it’s even worse after high school? I’m afraid of what’s going to happen to me.

I always just assume, as I’m dragging my tired ass out of bed, into the shower, out the door, into the subway and up the 22 flights of stairs to my tiny box my boss calls a cubicle that any teenager I pass has no clue about anything at all. I know I’m selling them short but I always see them just standing there, talking about nothing at all and making sure everyone around them can hear what they have to say. They’re texting each other and shoving each other and making out obnoxiously up against me on the bus. They annoy me but this is primarily because I wish I had it as easy as they do. The irony is that they do have it so easy but they think they’re going through the hardest part of their lives, that once they get out of high school, everything will work out in their favour. There’s a reason people are always urging young people not to grow up too soon, y’know.

I expected terror. I expected anxiety. I didn’t expect these things from the kids in Nanette Burstein’s documentary, AMERICAN TEEN, but rather from myself while having to sit through an in-depth exploration of what it means to be a teenager in middle America these days. I got neither. Instead, I felt sympathy, connection and nostalgia. The promotional material for this Sundance winner for Best Direction in a Documentary suggests that the five teenagers who make up the main subjects follow in the stereotypical footsteps of THE BREAKFAST CLUB. There’s Hannah, the rebel (who is really more of an artist than a rebel), Colin, the jock (who defies all preconceived notions of what it means to be a jock), Megan, the princess (who delights in drama and the suffering of others), Jake, the geek (who naturally plays video games and is in the school band) and Mitch, the heartthrob (who barely leaves an impression on the viewer like the others). The reality is that AMERICAN TEEN is actually a much more tender and understanding exploration of the insecurities that lie behind the images. All five of these kids turned into characters grow more into themselves before our eyes.

Burstein followed these five kids and a good number of their friends for the entire 2006 scholastic year at Warsaw Community High School. They had troubles with their parents, with their friends, with where they would go to college and with what the prom theme would be, to name but a few of the daily dramas in their lives. As one would expect from a teenager, they believe the world revolves around them and that their problems are monumental in comparison with anyone else’s. What struck me most though is that their problems are not really that different than my problems or those of my friends. Now I haven’t been a teenager for many a year but I still struggle with finding a partner, with finding myself. I still wonder where my life will lead, where I fit in. With responsibilities like bills, rent, a job, staying fit and keeping up with Jones’, I don’t have time to let the drama consume me. These five and the millions of others just like them define themselves by their dramas as they don’t know the fragility of life yet. Still, their subtle self-questioning, their longing to belong and their hope for their futures gives me a whole other kind of hope for the future of humanity.

AMERICAN TEEN is an enjoyable, refreshing documentary that will inevitably play differently to all who see it, as everyone had a different adolescent experience. Some have moved on while others still hear the echoes of torment or thrill in their minds. I know I was just as lost as they were at their age but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t as loud or vindictive - and, yes, I am aware of how simply making this statement ages me more than is necessary. Thanks to Burstein’s finely balanced exposition though, when I see a bunch of kids loitering outside my local corner store, I won’t focus solely on the loudness with which they ponder which Jonas brother is the hottest but rather remember the confusion that lives inside them and still lives somewhere within me.