Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Written and Directed by Kevin Smith
Starring Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Jason Mewes, Craig Robinson and Ricky Mabe

Zack Brown: Everybody wants to see anybody fuck. I hate Rosie O’Donnell but if somebody said, “I got a tape of Rosie O’Donnell getting fucked stupid,” I’d be like, “Why the fuck aren’t we watching that right now?”

Just in time for Halloween, one of the original independent filmmakers, Kevin Smith, gives us something truly frightening … Seth Rogen in a porno. No offence to Seth; I think he’s cuddly and all but porn material, I think not. Or maybe I’ve just been out of the straight porn-watching world for so long that this is what porn has come to. That said, I doubt I’ll be making a trip to my local video shop later to catch up on everything I’ve missed. What’s that? I don’t have to leave my home for this sort of fare anymore? It is all readily available online at the click of my mouse? And what? I’m supposed to be talking about Smith’s latest mild chuckle fest, ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO? I thought we were discussing film worth leaving the house for. ZACK AND MIRI is not that film. Maybe you could download it, I guess.

Zack and Miri may be making a porno but it is Kevin Smith making another lazy film that we should be focusing on. See, Smith is hoping that his sensational premise is enough to get you laughing ecstatically. He is primarily hoping for this because this way he can pass off his tired characters and simple jokes as something brand new, something no one has ever tackled in film before. Actually, that is giving him too much credit. The truth of the matter is that Kevin Smith is one of the most overrated filmmakers making movies today. He’d probably be the first to agree with me. This is because Smith doesn’t really care about his work and you can feel it in every cliché his characters exist and every joke he sets up. How else can you explain married couple characters who yell at each other incessantly and complain even more so about how horrific and sexless marriage is? Or a party sequence where the camera doesn’t move while we jump cut from one dancing fool to the next in full frame? And how can anyone these days justify using the word “faggot” as a meaningless insult, tossed around irresponsibly? Limited is the first word that comes to my mind.

Getting back to Zack and Miri (Rogen and the luminous Elizabeth Banks), they are the most enjoyable and charismatic things about this film. Zack and Miri have been friends forever and never have they crossed that scary line and stepped into the realm of sex between friends. They live together, if you want to call their situation living. They’re months behind on their rent; their electricity and water have been shut off; and neither one has a job that can actually get them out of this mess they’ve found themselves in. Naturally, they turn to the world of pornography for salvation. After all, they just found out that they have access to hundreds of contacts on their high school alumni mailing list that will no doubt jump at the chance to see this infamously platonic twosome finally get it on. I don’t know about you but if I was so down on my luck that I needed to make porn to bail myself, I’m pretty positive that the high school acquaintances that teased and taunted me at my most fragile moments would not be the first people I would be peddling my wares to. In fact, they would be right up there with my mom.

The irony of ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO is that Kevin Smith should feel right at home with the kinds of lower production values pornography calls for. In fact, I think I may have seen amateur porn that is subtler and more original than this film. It is not without its charm or its laughs but ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO is as forgettable as most of Smith’s work and not nearly as intriguing as actual porn.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Written by Tim Burton, Michael McDowell and Caroline Thompson
Words and Music by Danny Elfman
Directed by Henry Selick
Voices by Danny Elfman, Catherine O'Hara, Chris Sarandon and Paul Reubens

I’ve never been able to pin down what exactly is the target audience for TIM BURTON’S THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. It’s a holiday tale seemingly too dark to be a Christmas classic and too warm to be a Halloween fright. It’s animated so that eliminates a good chunk of close-minded adults yet it’s far too scary for younger kids (unless you consider Santa Claus being tortured to be good wholesome fun). It’s a musical too so there go all the adolescents outside of the drama club. That doesn’t leave many but those who do count themselves as part of this film’s loyal following know how lucky they are. Sure, it’s an altogether bizarre amalgamation of two seemingly opposite holidays but it is also incredibly clever, darkly romantic and one of the most underrated and satisfying musicals of our time.

THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS originated in Burton’s mind in the early 80’s, while he was working at Disney. Not so surprisingly, the dark story was not the kind of film Disney was looking to make at the time and so it was left behind. Burton left Disney behind as well but went back years later to get his original concept drawings that would become the cast of countless cookey characters that have, since its original 1993 bow, spawned an incredibly successful merchandising line. The first and foremost of these characters is Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king who presides over Halloween Town. The citizens and denizens of Halloween Town aren’t bad people, er, creatures. No, rather they are simply carrying out what they were born to do – bring chills and thrills to the boys and girls of the world on the last day of October. Only after more years than he can count, Jack feels like something now is missing. His emptiness is only exacerbated by a fateful visit to Christmas Town. Jack is overtaken by this indescribable warmth and joy that exudes throughout this place that he’s never known before and suddenly, the world is full of possibilities again.

Walt Disney has been toying with us for years. The film has only been allowed out of that pesky vault once a year, finding what seemed like a new home in 3D theatres in time for Halloween. Finally, the mouse house has let Jack and friends back into our homes in a 2-disc special edition. “Special” would be putting it mildly. Not only is the film impeccably restored but the extras feel so rare that you truly feel as if you are being treated to a genuinely thorough backstage look at this artistic triumph. Deleted and extended scenes are raw and unfinished, giving them a silent film era look. Actor, Christopher Lee reads Burton’s original poem that the film is based on against illustrations inspired by Burton’s original concept art. Even the teaser trailer is interesting in a time capsule fashion and how often can you say that? It only goes deeper from there. The “Making of” is broken down into each part of production and we are introduced to the delicate intricacies of stop-motion animation. Hundreds of puppets, meticulously detailed sets and unique camera mechanics are only three incredibly fascinating parts of this immense three-year long project. And still, I am only skimming the surface here of what other options are included in this package. Burton’s short film’s VINCENT (the story of an impossibly melodramatic seven-year-old boy descending into the madness of his mind) and FRANKENWEENIE (a mad scientist boy brings his dead pooch back from the dead in this precursor to EDWARD SCISSORHANDS and homage to Frankenstein) are a particularly extraordinary inclusion. And finally, a brand new commentary track was recorded with Burton as well as the two other unsung heroes – director, Henry Selick and composer and lyricist, Danny Elfman (who also contributes Jack’s singing voice). They have plenty to say but oddly, they’re all saying it at different times, having recorded their commentaries seperately. Despite not recording together, they are all on the same page when it comes to their genuine appreciate and pride for this project.

There is not enough space here for me to convey just how unique THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS is. Burton, Selick and Elfman, along with the hundreds of other animators and contributors, drew inspiration from such Christmas classics as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, turned them inside out and somehow managed to come up with a contemporary version that will remain now forever listed amongst these original classics as a masterpiece all its own. Suffice it to say, it needs to be seen and if you find yourself loving it, then this collector’s edition is a must have.


WEEKEND BOX OFFICE: SAW Gets Schooled - Musical Style!

For years now, it wouldn’t be Halloween if it wasn’t SAW to begin with. The consistent Lionsgate moneymaker would come out on or around Halloween, rake in the quick dough and get out before Thanksgiving came creeping. They’ve always opened at number one and have somehow managed to hold on to their core audience each year despite each installment being less interesting than the last. There was some concern the franchise was losing its edge on the market but no one would have guessed last year, it would be outdone by a bunch of squeaky clean teens singing and dancing it up at the prom.

After the record breaking cable success and subsequent soundtrack success of the first two HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL installments, Disney got the bright idea to launch the latest in the series in theatres. Clearly, there was money to be made exploiting these attractive young people and their limited singing and dancing talents. And money they did make. HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 3: SENIOR YEAR opened to $42 million, the third biggest October opening in history, behind SCARY MOVIE 3 ($48 million) and SHARK TALE ($47 million). When the film opened to $14 million on Friday, it seemed as though the film would easily surpass these two hits but Friday accounted for 33% of the full weekend take while people expected the kid friendly pic to soar even higher on Saturday. Still, it was an impressive haul and it won’t be long before we start hearing about “Community College Musical”.

The SAW folks don’t have anything to cry about. With an estimated budget of just over $10 million, who cares if your $30 million take is slightly less than SAW 4’s opening weekend? This sequel continues to perform year on year but its legs get shorter and shorter in the long term, and not because they were hacked off. It also wouldn’t be Halloween it seems if it weren’t for TIM BURTON’S THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. The film was re-issued yet again this year in 3D and in many cases with brand new digital projections. The film was also recently released on DVD though so this year’s ritual only mustered an average of $1,310 per screen for a total of $372K.

The Top 10’s only other debut was PRIDE & GLORY, starring Edward Norton and Colin Farrell as boys in blue. The unoriginal premise wasn’t fooling anyone and the film played to a mediocre take of just over $6 million. Audiences were more interested in holdovers like BEVERLY HILLS CHIHUAHUA and EAGLE EYE, which saw their declines hold solidly.

The art house scene was all a bustle this weekend. Fall is like the art house’s summer. The most notable debut was Clint Eastwood’s CHANGELING, starring Angelina Jolie in a role that might finally nab her another Oscar nomination. Playing on a mere 15 screens, the film pulled in half a million dollars, for a stellar per screen average of over $33K. The next highest average of any film playing is a bit surprising. Adapted from the popular Logo series, NOAH’S ARC: JUMPING THE BROOM appealed to gay audiences desperate for fare. On just five screens across the nation, the film collected $32K per screen. Meanwhile, Charlie Kaufman’s first time at bat as a director, SYNECDOCHE NEW YORK, was unleashed on 9 screens worth of unsuspecting people, for an average of $19K. The film has been getting mixed reviews so the future is as unpredictable as well, a Charlie Kaufman film.

NEXT WEEK: ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO. The title says it all folks and they do it on over 3000 screens. THE HAUNTING OF MOLLY HARTLEY will try to scare audiences away from SAW V. Guy Ritchie’s ROCKNROLLA has been struggling in limited release but hopes wider audiences will go for his supposed return to form. And Angelina and Clint go wide (from 15 to over 1800 screens) with CHANGELING.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Black Sheep Previews: ZACK & MIRI MAKE A PORNO

Seriously people ... who among you has not been there before? Your heat just got shut off; you're two months behind on the rent; and you're ten years out of high school and still selling coffee to loads of people doing way better than you. You've got to get out of this horrible hole! And then it hits you. What can you do that requires very little talent, will be loads of fun and has a built-in audience guaranteed to make you the big money? That's right, baby! You too can make porn! You can make porn, sell it on the internet and solve all your troubles. Let me tell you, if Zack and Miri can do it, so can you.

ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO is the latest chef d'oeuvre from everyone's favorite amateur filmmaker working in the big boys' world, Kevin Smith. It stars unlikely Hollywood it-boy, Seth Rogen and Mrs. Laura Bush herself, Elizabeth Banks. The twosome play roommates in some horrifically freezing American city who pretty much fall into the rut I described above. Now, Smith has never been known for his tact or restraint so give him the freedom to explore the good, clean world of pornographic filmmaking and you can almost certainly expect a multitude of moments that'll get your jaw dropping. This also marks a departure for Rogen. Up until now, the man has been firmly attached to Judd Apatow produced projects whenever he's been a leading man. Now, it's time to let another boy in a man's body take control apparently.

ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO made its debut at this year's Toronto International Film Festival and delighted audiences. The rest of us regular folk will get the chance to see it when it goes nationwide on October 31. Click HERE for more information.

What to rent, what to rent ...

Too cold to go outside? Week too long to bother with company? Sounds like a rental weekend to me. You can just pop some corn and open a bottle, slide into your slippers and enjoy your couch. All you have to do first is drag your lazy butt to the video store. This is where I come in. Let me make the daunting task of scanning shelf after shelf a little easier to make it all go a little faster. The video store is a place where all movies, big and small, come to live forever. It is my mission to make sure that some of the small don’t get lost amidst the masses. The following are not to be missed …


When I saw this film in theatres, I was taken with just how well it navigated between the quiet of lonely spaces, the ambiance created by people making music and the deafening inner turmoil of love being torn apart. Seeing it again in my living room, showed me sides I hadn’t seen the first time out. Richard Jenkins is superbly subtle as Walter Vale, a university professor who has been sleep walking through his life ever since the death of his wife. He wants to wake up; he wants to be present, participating in the same moments of life as the people he sees him passing him bay every day. Only, Walter’s life is without inspiration. It isn’t until he begrudgingly travels from Connecticut to a New York City apartment he rarely uses and finds that a couple have been living there for two months without his knowledge, that he wakes up. All Walter needed was something real and that is precisely what he gets with Tarek and Zainab (Haaz Sleiman and Danai Gurira), two immigrants trying to make a life for themselves in a foreign land. This may not be their original home but it is Walter who is visiting the land where they live.


Everyone has to start somewhere. Even emperors can have humble beginnings. And so the great Genghis Khan, emperor of the Mongol Empire in the 12th century, was once a boy whose name was Temudgin. Great leaders and warriors don’t just become these things though. The values and strengths that make them great can be seen at a very young age and Temudgin definitely had what was needed all along. Russian director, Sergei Bodrov’s epic, MONGOL, follows Temudgin as he grows from a precocious child to an honourable master and does so with as much calculated structure and beauty as the Mongolians had regulation to follow.

North American art house audiences flocked to see MONGOL when it was released domestically following its Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language film. The stunning battle sequences satisfied those who wanted to see Khan (played in the film as an adult by Tadanobu Asano) as a warrior and a conqueror while the respectful and dedicated romance between Temudgin and the bride he chose when he was just 9, Borte (Khulan Chuluun) showed a civil side to Khan. The duality of the film is most suitable considering historians are divided on the kind of man Khan was. Ultimately though, Bodrov sides with those who believed Khan to be a fair leader, a reverential husband and father and a great man whose accomplishments earned him a rightful place in the history of the world.


I don’t usually do scary. It keeps me up at night; it makes me jumpy in the middle of the day. I don’t see any actual need to put myself through this sort of torture. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed this seemingly conventional fright flick called THE STRANGERS. Written and directed by first-timer, Bryan Bertino, THE STRANGERS gets you right where it counts, at home. This is all the more reason to bring this one home with you – so that you can wonder what that noise was you heard in the kitchen. Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman play a couple on the verge of either getting engaged or breaking up. While this is never a good place to be, it is a much better place than his family’s country house. The couple has come up for the night after a wedding and is subsequently terrorized by a threesome of psychopaths. Bertino is having such a blast playing with time, space and sound, you won’t know what is coming or from where most of the time. The whole thing doesn’t amount to very much nor does it have anything distinct to say about senseless violence but it sure scared the crap out of me and ‘tis the season after all.



And thus concluded my first WHAT TO RENT feature. Should you need any advice on what to rent, feel free to write me anytime. You can ask about specific titles or for recommendations … I’m here for you.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Black Sheep ♥ Family Guy!

Yes, Black Sheep loves Family Guy. Black Sheep also loves free stuff. So when the good folks at 20th Century Fox offered to give Black Sheep a free copy of season six on DVD, Black Sheep thought ... sweet!

Now, I know I don't ordinarily talk about TV shows but as I've already established, there was free stuff involved, so I will be looking the other way this time. Family Guy's sixth season is now available to own on DVD. Family Guy, as you likely already know, owes a great deal to DVD as its phenomenal sales for its first couple of seasons led to Fox rescinding their previous cancellation of the show and putting it back on the air. Don't quote me on this but I think that was pretty much unheard of.

The sixth season is a short one. Family Guy was hit early on by the writer's guild strike last winter. Show creator, Seth MacFarlane is one of the main writers for the show and he is also the voice of Peter, Brian and Stewie. So, when the writers went on strike, he didn't wait around to continue recording his voice parts. Subsequently, the sixth season contains only 12 episodes but it makes up for this with tons of extras. There are commentaries galore, a crazy crapload of deleted scenes and plenty of behind the scenes footage surrounding the show's momentous 100th episode, "Stewie Kills Lois". Here is a clip about how the 100th episode came together ...

One of the great special features in the Family Guy season six release, for me anyway, is a featurette showcasing the entire cast's appearance at the Montreal Just for Laughs festival to do the show live. I happened to catch that performance. Now, let me tell you, I usually laugh pretty hard when I'm watching the show at home but I practically peed watching them do the show live. Just to see the vast talent of all the cast members come to life on stage ... it was incredible! MacFarlane going back and forth between Stewie, Brian and Peter is priceless.

The only disappointing thing about this set is that it does not include "The Blue Harvest", the side-splitting Family Guy send-up of the first STAR WARS movie ... the first, first one. Mind you, that one is already available to own separately so I guess I could just go out and buy it ... unless the good people at 20th Century Fox wanna hook me up ... I'm just sayin'.

So get out there and pick up Family Guy season six on DVD today and you too can laugh over and over again at such great classics as "McStroke", where Peter saves a burger restaurant manager from a fire and gets free burgers for life, eats too many in one sitting, has a stroke, is paralyzed on one half of his body, sues the burger restaurant for damages as if it was all their fault and spends most of the episode drooling. It's priceless. I'll leave you with one last clip from the DVD. Enjoy!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Beyond the Wall

An interview with ADAM’S WALL director, Michael Mackenzie

Keep walking up past the downtown core, past the Latin Quarter, even past the plateau and you will reach a neighborhood Montrealer’s affectionately call Mile End. This trendy stretch plays home to just as many artists as it does professionals and families. It encompasses a wide range of ethnic backgrounds and religious practices. It is known for its untapped restaurants, signature style shopping and cozy vibe. I think there are a number of watering holes too.

Now, everything that makes Mile End one of Montreal’s most liked neighborhoods, has been captured in Michael Mackenzie’s latest film, ADAM’S WALL. The film can be summed up as a modern day “Romeo and Juliet” but that would be a total oversimplification considering the Romeo is a young Jewish boy and the Juliet is a young Lebanese girl. What stands between them and the love they deserve to have with each is no simple family feud but rather a conflict that has always been heavy and violent and is now reaching catastrophic heights. As if that weren’t enough, Adam has a wall all his own waiting to keep love at bay in case the Israeli conflict were not enough to begin with.

Michael Mackenzie, a Mile End resident himself, may be a playwright by nature but his forays into film are proving to him to be an altogether distinct form of expression. After the critical success of his first feature, THE BARONESS AND THE PIG, which incidentally was based on his own play of the same name, Mackenzie took his time searching for his next project. The search may not have been frantic but when he wasn’t looking, he ran into ADAM’S WALL.

Joseph Belanger: Congratulations on your film. I caught a screening at the Festival Nouveau Cinema just the other day and the response seemed to be overwhelmingly positive.
Michael Mackenzie: The festival response was great. That was where the premiere was. The response was particularly gratifying because it was not just festival filmgoers at the screening but also members of both communities the film depicts. And they really liked it.

JB: Now, this is not your original story but you did co-write the screenplay.
MM: Yes, Dana Schoel, I have to give him all the credit for the original story. He came to me with the script about five years ago. The subsidiary program that was supporting his writing insisted that he have some sort of mentor to be eligible for the assistance. He had seen my first movie and had liked that so he asked me to be his mentor. We met and talked about the story and I was very drawn to it. I also really wanted to make a movie about Montreal. I think it is a beautiful city and I had never really seen Montreal reflected in a movie with the things that I love about the city. It’s such a great city with such wonderful visual paradoxes.

JB: And you are a Montreal resident, right?
MM: Yes, I have lived in Mile End now for many, many years. I actually live in what I am told is apparently the most diverse ethnic neighborhood in all of Canada. I’ve always been very interested in the issues that are raised in ADAM’S WALL. As an immigrant myself, well a less profile immigrant anyway, I’ve always been interested in the communities. I’ve always been very aware of the diversity in the neighborhood and I’ve also been aware of the tensions that arise sometimes. That was something I really wanted to investigate.

JB: And as this is your second feature, as you mentioned, what was easier this second time out?
MM: Uh, well, I think … everything. That’s the quick answer. Having worked in theatre, I’ve always known how important it is to be able to work with actors and I’ve always had a great relationship with actors. This is a real big plus. It was a lot easier because putting a movie together, well the only way to get it is on the job training. There’s no way you can read anything or see anything or hear anything that is going to get you doing it until you’ve actually done it. I can say the second one was easier because I understood this process that was unbelievably complex.

JB: There is this great balance in ADAM’S WALL between this omnipresent Middle Eastern conflict that is on the characters’ minds, mostly with the older characters, often driving their motivations and thinking. Underneath all of that is this simple love story. How difficult was it to balance these two opposites when the film was being put together?
MM: The film was in development for such a long time and we had to work hard and long to raise all the money necessary so it meant that we could have absolute preparation and fully understand what the challenges would be before we started shooting. I understood that this was always going to be a big issue in the material. It isn’t just a balance between those two things. Those two element do affect each other but when you look at the elements of the love story itself, the biggest challenge was to make that love story credible. I think we really pulled that off and I have to say it has everything to do with our two lead actors, Jesse Aaron Dwyre and Flavia Bechara. They were exquisite in their performances but we also really had to set the right tone for them be comfortable with each other.

JB: There is something distinctly generational about ADAM’S WALL. As you said, your two younger leads were very strong – they had a very simple language between them that exhibited a hesitation but also a strong pull. In contrast though, some of the older characters just seem to be holding on to so much anger. What are your feeling about what the film is saying about letting go and healing?
MM: Letting go is a great way to put it for the older generation. We didn’t want to pull any punches in this movie. We didn’t want to make nice. There is enormous anger surrounding this conflict. In Montreal, it is resurrected here, but of course, it originates in the Middle East. This is incredible anger on both sides and it would have been a copout on our parts to try to resolve that in the film. Dana and I always agreed that this film would not have any of these copouts, that there would be no “walking into the sunset” happy ending. At the same time though, we didn’t want a movie without any vestige of hope in it.

JB: I’d read in your production notes that your view on ADAM’S WALL is that it doesn’t propose any solutions to these conflicts but rather chooses to focus on the little miracles that take place within this conflict. What is it that you ultimately hope people will take home from ADAM’S WALL.
MM: Well, a bunch of things. On a very non-controversial level, I hope people take away what a beautiful city Montreal is. That is very important to me and I think we’ve done very well with that.

JB: Yes, I would say that is a guarantee.
MM: One of the most fascinating things about showing and promoting this film is that I’ve done Jewish press and Lebanese and Arabic press. I’ve had conversations on both sides now where how potentially controversial the film is but the Jewish press is always pointing out what they think the Lebanese community will find offensive and the Lebanese press is pointing out what will upset the Jewish community. There’s something very sweet about this response. The important thing about a movie like this is to try to get people to see other people they have seen previously but as nothing more than objects and get them to see them as human beings.

JB: There is certainly a strong fairness about ADAM’S WALL. By focusing on the love story in the context it finds itself, the film doesn’t take any sides.
MM: The fact is that there is no immediate solution to any of these conflicts but it’s important to feel that small things can help. A grain of sand can one day become a heap.

ADAM’S WALL is so much more than a grain of sand and after having seen it, I’ve no doubt it has the potential become it’s own heap. It is currently playing in Montreal and looks to expand across Canada in the weeks to come.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

WEEKEND BOX OFFICE: The Reign of Payne

Calling it a reign is most certainly premature but seeing as how movies have a shelf life shorter than milk these days, winning one weekend is a lot like a reign. The reign this week belongs to MAX PAYNE, starring Mark Wahlberg. The film, which is based on a popular video game (as opposed to all the games based on unpopular video games, I suppose), pulled in $18 million after a $7 million strong Friday. This is significantly lower than Wahlberg’s summer entry, THE HAPPENING, which opened north of $30 million but that isn’t quite fair. It was summertime. The name, M. Night Shaymalan preceded the title. MAX PAYNE would probably be better compared to last fall’s WE OWN THE NIGHT or the previous spring’s SHOOTER. MAX PAYNE falls right in between these two and as long as he keeps coming out on top, than Wahlberg will continue to pull up the rear of the Hollywood A-list.

The week’s two other top entries battled it out and finished within very close proximity of each other. Ultimately though, audiences flocked to THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES like bees to honey (c’mon, you were expecting that) over Oliver Stone’s potentially premature biopic of George W. Bush, W. THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES played on 500 screens less than W. and pulled off the highest average in the Top 10. I guess people were more in the mood for something sugary sweet than something pretending to be real. This doesn’t mean that W. is a disappointment. Given that American audiences may be exhausted talking about President Bush after 8 years and that audiences have not shown a lot of support for many political films in recent years, it was not clear at all whether Stone would be able to make this work. Critics are split on his success but the film brought in a solid average and should manage a modest take overall.

As far as platform releases go, a number of films found their expansions holding up quite well. The highest per screen average of any film this week belonged to Mike Leigh’s HAPPY-GO-LUCKY. The film added but five screens and saw it’s gross increase by nearly 50% for a healthy average of $12K. Guy Ritchie’s ROCKNROLLA added a little over a dozen screens and saw its average drop from $20K last week to just under $6K now. Still, a wide release is imminent and it should play well to the action crowd. This next one I am following very closely, if only because I feel it to be one of the year’s best and I pray it finds the audience it so deserves … Jonathan Demme’s RACHEL GETTING MARRIED added another 42 screens this week and it still average over $10K per screen for the third weekend in a row. Do not miss this picture. I mean it.

Oh, wait, I forgot about SEX DRIVE. Whatever, so did everyone else.

NEXT WEEK: This should be interesting. For the last five years, a SAW movie has come out just before Halloween and built on or maintained its audience from the year before, within reason. There is no reason other than sheer exhaustion to think that this year should be any different but there’s a new kid in town. Actually, there are several of them. Disney has decided to counter program with HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 3. I don’t know … I think SAW’s days are done. Warner Bros. throws its hat into the ring, why I do not know, with PRIDE AND GLORY, starring Edward Norton and Colin Farrell. And Disney gives us back THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS one more time to continue the tradition of releasing it year on year. They also just re-released it on DVD and blu-ray so why would we go see it in theatres again? Oh, right, it’s in 3D.

Black Sheep @ the 2008 Festival Nouveau Cinema

And we’ve come down to the final two. The Festival Nouveau Cinema is now in it’s final day here in Montreal. The big closing night party and screening came last night. I guess Saturday was better so everyone can just wake up and get back to normal tomorrow. Ah, normal. How dull you will be in comparison with the week I just had. Maybe the festival staff will find me hanging outside the theatre tomorrow pretending like nothing has ended.

Thanks to Chris and Oliver at the pressroom – you were very accommodating, getting me everything that I needed when I needed it. And congratulations go out to Montreal filmmaker, Adrian Wills, for winning one of the festival's audience awards, the Radio-Canada People's Choice Award for his Beatles/Cirque de Soleil documentary, ALL TOGETHER NOW. I had the pleasure of interviewing Adrian during the festival; just click on the film's title to jump to that.

A few things I caught at the festival will find their ways to Black Sheep in the coming weeks but I will close now with my last two films. Talk about night and day with these two … Let’s start with the night.


They said I couldn’t do it. They said I could never be objective when it came to Madonna. Yes, I am a fan. I have been since I was 10 years old. I defended her during her sex craze in the early 90’s. I even enjoyed her “American Life” album, describing her rap attempt as cute. But I cannot condone this. FILTH AND WISDOM is Madonna’s first directorial effort. I’ve wondered if she perhaps made this film as a backdoor entrance into the film world considering the front door used for her acting has been slammed in her face so many times now. She may have snuck in but this film will not get her an invitation to stay.

Where does one begin when everything is wrong? FILTH AND WISDOM is supposed to center around three roommates in London who find themselves at various stages on what Madonna feels to be the eternal pull of life between, wait for it, filth and wisdom. In Madonna’s ongoing pursuit of spiritual enlightenment and the subsequent preaching of said enlightenment to all of us lesser folk, she tells us, through incessant and obvious narration from lead actor and Gogol Bordello frontman, Eugene Hutz (the only natural element of this mess) that all people live somewhere between these two guiding forces and that inevitably every person will be pulled toward the opposite of the force that has always guided them. Given that she wants to make such grand statements about humanity, it would have helped if she treated her characters like actual people. Instead, they are merely symbols being moved wherever needed in the story, whether there is any build or not, in order to serve the greater purpose of making Madonna’s point. If she decides to try her hand at directing again, she should A) allow the writing to someone else (she co-wrote this with Dan Cadan), B) tell a person’s story that allows for insight instead of trying so hard to cram insight into a hollow story and C) not use her own music in the soundtrack more than once … that’s just plain tacky.


This year’s winner at Cannes for the Palmes d’Or and France’s official submission to the Academy Awards as Foreign Language Film contender, ENTRE LES MURS (THE CLASS) is such an engaging experience, which is quite the surprise when you think about what you are actually watching unravel on screen. Francois Bégaudeau is a teacher and novelist. He wrote a book about his experiences teaching teenagers in a troubled Parisian neighborhood, translated that into a screenplay and now finds himself playing a version of himself in the film. It is now our turn to sit with him in his classroom, as presented by director Laurent Cantet. For just over two hours, we sit with Bégaudeau’s French class and watch in amazement as the games play out. Considering the film rarely leaves the school grounds, if at all, it keeps its audience focused at all times, which is a lot more than I can say for Bégaudeau and his students.

Calling what happens in Bégaudeau’s classroom a game is a gross understatement. It is more like a war of the minds and egos. The teachers all go in at the beginning of the session feeling defensive and preparing themselves for the worst, therefore often fulfilling their own prophecies. The students, well, it isn’t that they are so uninterested in learning. They just care more about social status and where they fit in. So they spend the time they should be spending on conjugating verbs coming up with witty quips and trying to look big and tough in front of their recess buddies. The classroom has become a stage to buy yourself credibility on the playground. And with 30 or so of them and only one Francois Bégaudeau, the odds are far from being in his favor. Kids today know this and the kids in this particular class do an excellent job conveying these things in the most subtle of fashions. The entire cast is stellar as the cinema verité stylistic approach requires them to be in order to be believable. This is all the more impressive considering the majority of them have never acted before, including Bégaudeau himself. ENTRE LES MURS is a great film, funny one minute as the banter flies through the room and distressing the next when the realization that scenarios just like these are happening all over the civilized world. It is also a heck of a lot more entertaining than I remember school to be.

So what have we learnt here today class? Well, I learnt that Madonna is just like that kid in Monsieur Bégaudeau’s class – she thinks she has all the answers and likes to look cool when she can but if she would actually stop yapping for a second, she might actually learn something from the real teacher.

Friday, October 17, 2008


Written by Stanley Weiser
Directed by Oliver Stone
Starring: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Banks, James Cromwell, Ellen Burstyn, Richard Dreyfuss, Thandie Newton and Jeffrey Wright

George W. Bush: I’m so bone tired of this Saddam. He’s always misunderestimating me.

Considering that at the time that I am writing this and while W. is hitting theatres, George W. Bush is still the president of the United States, is it unreasonable to ask if it is just too soon for a film biography of his life? Do we not need a little space in order to, first of all, get over the trauma of the eight-year long Bush administration, or more importantly, in order to gain some perspective on one of the most unlikely controversial figures in modern history? Lucky for us, the man behind the lens is Oliver Stone – a man who has never seemed to concern himself with objectivity to begin with. And I say lucky for another reason as well. We are lucky this movie has been made now because it actually allows for us to see a side of George W. that we’ve never really seen before – a sympathetic side. Sure the film is an entirely fictional imagining of the man but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t make for good entertainment.

Stone’s W. is not a documentary – thankfully because I can’t usually stomach watching the man on television for more than five minutes. Stone is under no obligation to be fair or well balanced. Besides, even documentary filmmakers these days seem to use the truth and objectivity as loose guidelines. Still, when W. opens with a conversation amongst the upper echelons of the Bush administrative staff as to what buzz words and catch phrases would best sell the Iraq war to the American public, you can’t help but wonder whether Stone has zero intention of being fair or whether he intends to lambast the man. In fact, up until the moment the film began, the most intriguing thing for me about this film was trying to understand why Stone was making it in the first place. What was he going to say about him? How was he going to say it? It is right after this opening, which introduces us to most of the key players in this fantastic cast, that Stone, under the structure of Stanley Weiser’s script, takes us back to meet a younger George – a much less presidential George, if you will.

We get to see George as a college boy getting hazed. We get to see George quitting job after job after job with no direction in sight. We get to see George promising ladies the world but giving them nothing but heartache. But then we get to see another side of George. We get to see him face his alcoholism. We get to see him come to find his faith again. And we get to see him fall in love with a young lady named Laura. The manner in which it all unfolds is rather conventional but still also believable, thanks to a fiery Josh Brolin as the big guy himself. Brolin got me to root for a guy I would ordinarily hiss at (not that I hiss at that many people) and he did so by personifying the man as a regular guy with regular guy hang-ups. Weiser’s script does oversimplify Bush’s psychology by implying that all of his decisions in life have been motivated by the need to prove to daddy what a good boy he can be. Still, Brolin brings more to it than that; he brings both passion and compassion to man who is generally considered to be a monster.

Was it Stone’s intention for W. to be a George W. Bush puff piece? Not at all. Without forcing Stone’s hand, the plot does follow through Bush’s election into office and right up until the point where his administration realizes that the Iraq war was going to be a lot harder than they had anticipated. It is in the war room that Stone sneaks in his now signature controversial touch. Suddenly, it makes sense why he made this movie now and why it is being released just a few weeks before the American elections that will see Bush leave office. Once you understand why you’re watching it, you realize that it was actually a lot more enjoyable than you thought it would be and that Stone has crafted a good ol’ American movie at the same time as he sticks it to American government.


The good folks at Lionsgate are auctioning off five autographed W. posters this weekend, in order to raise money for Stand Up To Cancer. Simply click on the eBay link below to place your bid for a W. poster, autographed by Oliver Stone, Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Banks, James Cromwell and Ellen Burstyn. Remember the auction ends October 20 so get crackin'.

Autographed W. Poster eBay Auction

The Passion Behind PASSCHENDAELE

An interview with writer/director, Paul Gross

Canadians are a humble people by nature it would seem. We care about our country; heck, most of us love it. We just don’t hang giant flags outside our front doors to say so. According to history though, the Canadian armed forces have always had a reputation for being tough, fair and effective. Canadians, despite having only been a legitimate country for a short time, were a major presence in the First World War. In later years, Canadians were trailblazers in the realm of peacekeeping. Canadian war efforts may be discussed at length in classrooms but it is rarely depicted in film. PASSCHENDAELE is sure to change this.

Paul Gross has been making PASSCHENDAELE in his mind for nearly 20 years. It all started when his grandfather, who had fought in the First World War, sat him down one day to talk about something he rarely talked about. He told him about both courage and horror and now, Gross has made a movie about both of these things and so much more. PASSCHENDAELE is not his grandfather’s story though. It is a story for all Canadians who are long overdue to know this aspect of their heritage. And in a day when any war film made must make some inevitable comment on the current global climate, Gross has managed to tell a story that is distinct and moving without the least bit of condemnation.

In the weeks leading up to the film’s Canadian release, beginning with the film’s impressive debut as the opening film for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Gross has been touring the country to discuss his past, his country’s past and the passion behind PASSCHENDAELE.

Joseph Belanger: Having seen PASSCHENDAELE, I can say that genuinely enjoyed it and that I left the film with a great sense of pride. Given that Canadian war efforts are not often the subject of mainstream cinema, I would think that pride is something you would hope audiences would take away from the experience.
Paul Gross: Thanks, I’m glad to hear that. It’s a funny thing about pride. I think so much of how we view patriotism or heroism or pride, they’re framed by war films. We did not want to push anything in particular but we did do these things. We were phenomenally good soldiers and there is no reason why we cannot honour that.

JB: And why do you think it is that we don’t claim this pride more often?
PG: I think that we are nervous to be seen as emulating what we believe to be false pride and being compared to our neighbours to the south. It’s horrible having these conversations – trying to define who we are by who we’re not. I think that our understanding of heroism is really on a level of human geography just because we’re smaller. Our heroism involves self-effacing, self-sacrifice. We don’t run around saying that we’re the greatest soldiers around and yet we were the fiercest fighting unit in the British order of battle. It’s funny; we would never say that but Lloyd George, who was the Prime Minister of England said that any time the Canadian corps came into the line, the enemy knew to expect the worst.

JB: I also had a strong sense of pride for PASSCHENDAELE from a Canadian film perspective. It is about Canada; it was made in Canada; you’re Canadian and you wrote and directed it. Was there a point in time where it occurred to you that this film was truly an important film to be made?
PG: You try to resist those thoughts because they tend to create a false vanity and expectations that will never be met. I always thought that if we got to make this film and that if all of us who worked on it thought collectively that our history, that this particular piece of our military involvement, was important to us, we would all take pride in it and it would take on a meaning on a larger sense than just being a movie.

JB: This might be all too simple to say but PASSCHENDAELE is clearly a Paul Gross passion project. You’ve been working on it for so long. You directed; you produced; you wrote; you act in the film.
PG: It’s so greedy looking.

JB: Right. And that’s the danger. On paper sure, it looks like you didn’t want to let anyone else do anything but that comes from not having seen the film. Once you’ve seen it, there is no ego up there on the screen. The story stands very firmly on its own. What drove this passion for you?
PG: It’s just something I’ve been living with since I was 15. It all started with my grandfather as he fought in the war. Like so many men, he came back and he never really talked about it; I think partly, this was because people didn’t have the vocabulary at the time to describe what it was like. One day though, on a particularly auspicious day as he had finally allowed me to drive the boat while we were fishing, I didn’t even see his face; he sat in front of me, with his back to me. The first story he told me became the first scene in the film. That story framed his life; it didn’t limit his life. It shaped him. That days has stayed with me ever since.

JB: There’s this great bit in the production notes about how horrible it was to shoot the war scenes. The cast and crew, waist deep in mud, were freezing in the trenches for so many days. Ordinarily, the floor would be open to so much complaining in that scenario but yet there really was no room for it because when you think about it, the soldiers these men were portraying actually lived through the real deal. They never got a break from it; there was no hotel to go home to at the end of the night.
PG: All movies tend to have this feeling that the set is make believe and it all pretty much floats into the back of your mind. It can be great fun. We had a lot of soldiers though as extras. Apart form the fact that it was brilliant to have these people on set because, first of all, they come with their own command structure, unlike extras. They all know which end of the rifle the bullet comes out of. And they don’t like sitting around so they would all life heavy shit and move it around. They choreographed their own fights; it was fantastic. It gave the film this resonance because they could conceivably die a month later in combat. But you’re right; we would start whining about the conditions and have to stop. We knew we would have reasonably good food; we would be out of there and showering.

JB: You must have been wishing at times when you were deep in the holes that you were making MEN WITH BROOMS 2.
PG: (laughs) It was the rain. It rained for months at Passchendaele. Just recreating the battle scene took months, all in Calgary. All the water came from the Elbow River, which comes from a glacier. We would set up the shot and when everything was ready to go, the assistant director would call for “Rain up” and you would see everyone shudder. It was brutal. You couldn’t use your hands after about 10 minutes. You would have to warm them in buckets of warm water. I would lose my feet about 20 minutes in and I wouldn’t have feeling back until the end of the day.

JB: How did you persevere?
PG: It may have been the worst shooting conditions I’ve ever worked in, or anyone involved in it had ever shot in, but everyone showed up for work with this extraordinary enthusiasm. Not just the performers but everyone in the crew too. I’ve never worked on anything where everyone seemed to take ownership for it. They took a proprietorship in the project. It was truly an extraordinary thing.

JB: Now that it is all done and behind you, do you feel you did the soldiers justice?
PG: One of the great things about my job is that you get to spend time in someone else’s shoes for stretches at a time. You get to experience their circumstances. I would have at least one glimpse a day of what it was like for my grandfather. Still, I don’t understand how they did this. They had to be a whole other breed of men.

PASSCHENDAELE opens nationwide in Canada October 17th. Once the theatrical run is complete, the film will be shipped to schools across the country and the passion will continue as part of a continued education effort on Canadian history for today’s youth.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Black Sheep @ the 2008 Festival Nouveau Cinema

The festival continues swimmingly. Screenings are sold out. Reactions to the films are enthusiastic. And there’s still more to come. In fact, I have three films to see today alone. Hence my having to be brief with you so I can get out there and continue devouring everything the festival has to offer … including tonight’s surprise premiere of Kevin Smith’s ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO.

Little known French painter, Seraphine de Senlis, has found a fresh admirer in French director, Martin Provost. His hopes are that his admiration will spread. Provost’s third feature film sheds a light on not only an underrated painter but leaves the viewer with provocative questions about art, who can create it and what actually makes it art. And while Provost’s sensitive style makes for an insightful look at one woman’s slow descent into madness, it is Yolande Moreau’s eerily innocent performance that makes SERAPHINE so engaging. The manner in which she operates in her own naïve world and mind makes her such a sympathetic character and adds so much value to the art she creates.

Samira Makhmalbaf’s TWO-LEGGED HORSE is not for the casual filmgoer. It is the story of two boys, one who comes from wealth and another who lives in a hole in the ground. The boy with nothing is hired to carry around the other, as he lost his legs in an explosion. Ordinarily, your heart would go out to the young invalid but it’s pretty hard when he treats a boy who could be his friend literally like a horse. This is a movie that drags you across the jagged rocks of Iran and leaves you there to bleed. I have to say, this was not for me. While it was effective, it was also too trying. I don’t need to have things sugar coated in order to be able to enjoy them but this was so dire that I couldn’t focus on it all the way through in fear of losing it.

French director, Remi Bezancon’s newest film has all its bases covered. It’s got an intriguing premise – a family history as told through five specific days that permanently altered the family’s dynamic. It’s got a pimped out soundtrack to catch the mood of the vast period of time it covers and the editing is equally tricked out to give the film a hip look to match the soundtrack. But does it have enough emotional depth to fill the rest of the stylized space? Mostly. Thanks to a great cast, including Montreal’s Marc-Andre Grondin (C.R.A.Z.Y.), the film is engaging and enjoyable. It only falters beneath its actual concept. Given that we are only focusing on life-changing days, they are always dramatic events. We are left with the impression that this family had very little calm in their house.

And, now I must be off to catch another film. More festival coverage to come this weekend.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Written by Jenny Lumet
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Starring Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Bill Irwin, Anna Deavere Smith and Debra Winger

Kym: I’m alive and I’m present and there’s nothing controlling me.

I’m sure there are a number of people out there who actually get excited when they check the mail to find the next in a seemingly never ending string of wedding invitations. I am not that person. Unless the invitation is to attend the nuptials of a dear friend or a close family member, all I see is an invitation to what will inevitably be a long day of small talk and potentially awkward speeches that will cost me a lot more than the day at the movies I would much rather be having. You are about to get an invitation to an entirely different kind of wedding though and not only must you RSVP as soon as possible, you must get yourself looking your best because this is a wedding I can guarantee you will enjoy. You will laugh and cry, be horrified and be moved all within the span of one intimate weekend despite not knowing a single other person there. This invitation comes from veteran filmmaker, Jonathan Demme, and this uniquely grounding catharsis is what happens when you attend RACHEL GETTING MARRIED.

Yes, Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) is getting married but that is far from the only big event happening on this particular weekend. Her sister, Kym (Anne Hathaway), is also coming home for the wedding after nine months in rehab for drug addiction. Kym has been in and out of facilities for a number of years and her disease has taken a hard toll on her family. This time is different though as she has now gone nine months sober, just enough time to be reborn as a new person. Only, no one knows whether they can trust this, including Kym herself, and subsequently, no one knows exactly how to resolve the past and the present. Despite all this potential drama brewing, Demme shows up at the Connecticut house with an extensive crew of cameramen and is allowed full access. This is no ordinary wedding story though. What Demme strings together is a seamless documentary style expose of one family at a pivotal point in their history. The shots and cuts are as jagged as Hathaway’s choppy bob, creating a constant edginess throughout that is soothed only by the numerous musically inclined wedding guests casually playing in adjoining rooms.

In order for Demme’s brave, raw approach to elevate past gimmick and achieve the harrowing beauty that it does, the players need to come off as natural and as familial as possible. Obviously, any actor in any film needs to give a strong performance in order for the film to be better but it is imperative here in order for the viewer to feel that they are actually a guest at this wedding. The cast is superb. As Rachel, DeWitt is a woman filled with both love and fear. She is surrounded by love from her immediate family and new extended family but she is also worried that all this love will be taken away from her as it has in the past. Her father, played by Bill Irwin, is as giddy as a young boy to be giving away his oldest daughter and to have his youngest back at home. The girls’ estranged mother, played very subtly by Debra Winger, is noticeably absent even when she’s in the room. It is naturally Hathaway though that shines brightest. Yes, she does have the showiest part, but it is how well she owns this role that is most impressive, in that it is altogether surprising given her previous work. Hathaway is a force that demands attention whenever she is on screen, which only further lends weight to the fragile, unintentional neediness of her character. She inspires both disdain and sympathy but never seems to care which we feel more.

When I first saw RACHEL GETTING MARRIED, I felt disoriented leaving the theatre. Once I had finished drying my eyes, I had to sit down because I didn’t feel ready to walk. This is Jonathan Demme’s masterpiece. It is filled with such candid moments from random friends singing at the rehearsal dinner to intense family eruptions that make you feel as though you should leave the room. It is all so real, all so warm and all so deeply personal. There is an abundance of love at this wedding but like any great love, it comes with great potential for pain and sorrow. And while it may be a horrible struggle at times, RACHEL GETTING MARRIED always strives to focus on the love and the future that love will make possible.