Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Written and Directed by Guillaume Canet
Starring Francois Cluzet, Marie-Josee Croze and Kristen Scott Thomas

There are times when I sit down to my computer to write about a film and I am stumped over how to convey my admiration, or lack thereof, without giving everything away. This is exponentially more difficult when the film itself explicitly insists you say nothing. And so I have decided to say very little about French director, Guillaume Canet’s TELL NO ONE. I can tell you this; it takes place approximately eight years after a man has lost his wife in a brutal murder and a new development in the case calls his innocence into question. I can also tell you that you’re better off not knowing anything else as the experience is all the more mesmerizing with just the right amount of ignorance going in.

Parlez vous francais? If you cannot answer that question, then I have my answer. TELL NO ONE contains just one extra in its DVD form, an hour long documentary chronicling the film’s making, and it is entirely in French. While the film is suitably subtitled, I guess the distributors decided that English speaking admirers of the film should be happy enough to enjoy the film and stop there. Given the film’s strong international success, they could have definitely splurged on a translator. That said, if you do speak French, I’m not sure you’re in any better position. The documentary itself goes absolutely nowhere and serves to showcase the director mostly as a young genius in the making, doing little to enhance the appreciation of the film itself.

TELL NO ONE is both tender and tense, both playful and sinister. Canet guides you along a journey that is consistently unexpected and yet never gimmicky or contrived. All you have to do is sit on the edge of your couch and wait with horrible impatience to be let in on the secret.



Sunday, March 29, 2009

It isn’t exactly foreign, or alien if you will, to see an animated feature come out on top of the chart with massive numbers. This specific debut though certainly packed a particularly monstrous wallop. Dreanworks’ MONSTERS VS. ALIENS is Dreamworks’ second biggest opening for an animated film after last summer’s KUNG-FU PANDA. It is the third best March opening after Zach Snyder’s 300 and the second installment in the ICE AGE series. More importantly though, MONSTERS VS. ALIENS establishes the viability and profitability of the budding 3D market. Representing just 28% of the entire theatre count, 3D screens amassed 58% of the final weekend gross and will inevitably get all of Hollywood talking about the future of the cinema.

The box office saw two other Top 10 debuts this week. The first is yet another horror film, THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT. Despite its certainly impressive debut, it will likely sink down the same route as the countless other horror films that open strong and die off faster than the first disposable victim in, well, all these equally disposable horror flicks. The week’s other debut goes to 12 ROUNDS, the latest Renny Harlin action film. The film was not heavily promoted and stars B-list action star, John Cena. This would most likely explain for the paltry $5 million it took in for a seventh place finish.

Continuing its squeaky clean expansion, SUNSHINE CLEANING just missed out on the Top 10, finishing in 11th place. The film officially goes art-house wide next week when it reaches 500 screens but at 167 screens this weekend, its gross improved 100% over last week and the Amy Adams/Emily Blunt vehicle maintained a per screen average of over $8K. A handful of other very limited runs saw impressive averages this weekend. Debuting this week on three and four screens respectively, Independent Spirit nominated, GOODBYE SOLO brought in $13.5K per screen and French export, SHALL WE KISS? secured an average of nearly $8K. Just like last week though, the highest per screen average belongs to VALENTINO: THE LAST EMPORER. The film added one screen this week for a whopping total of two screens and nailed down an average of $15K for a 38% increase over last week.

slumAnd the Top 10 says goodbye this week to one its longest mainstays. After a total of 12 non-consecutive weeks in the Top 10, Best Picture winner, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE suffered a great descent this week. With its impending DVD release coming on Tuesday, the little movie that not only could but did, saw a drop of nearly 60% and a loss of over 1200 theatres. Still, at a total domestic gross of nearly $140K and a total of eight Oscars, I’d say the Danny Boyle picture definitely fared better than it would have had it been released straight to video, as it was originally intended.

NEXT WEEK: Sundance hit and directorial follow-up to SUPERBAD, ADVENTURELAND lands ion1800 screens. More importantly though, its time to reboot and revisit FAST AND FURIOUS with the entire original cast and two less usages of the word, “the”, on over 3400 screens.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Written by Megan Holley
Directed by Christine Jeffs
Starring Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Steve Zahn, Clifton Collins Jr. and Alan Arkin

Rose Lorkowski: Do you think all I can do is clean up other people’s shit?

When some lonely soul walks into a sporting goods store and blows his brains out all over the ceiling with a 20-gage shotgun from behind the counter, someone has got to come in and clean up that mess. Not only would it deter potential shoppers to find leftover bits of brain mass mixed in with the fishing poles but, more importantly, the violence that ripped through the fabric of everyday life needs to be cleaned from memory in order to return to our blissful existences. Enter Rose and Norah Lorkowski (Amy Adams and Emily Blunt), two sisters who reasonably could be a few steps away from the same fate as the man with the shotgun if they got to seriously thinking about their lives. Despite their troubles, the two have paired up to clean up the messes no one else wants to touch. What they lack in style, they make up with smiles as the two try to find life by facing death head on in SUNSHINE CLEANING.

The people who brought you LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE have brought you back to Albuquerque, New Mexico. They also tried to bring back that signature quirk you enjoyed so much last time, even going so far as to cast Alan Arkin in the role of a loud, unconventional grandfather. While they may not have succeeded in recreating that same kind of wide satisfaction, they have crafted a sensitive film that will definitely speak to the millions struggling in America today to forge their own path and bring some semblance of meaning to their lives. When we meet Rose, she is cleaning people’s houses just so she can afford her dilapidated little house. Her sister Norah can’t even be bothered to get out of bed to show up for her pointless waitress job. These are not girls with hope but they find very quickly that hope can come back into your life faster than you would expect and even when after you’ve given up on it.

As far as sisters go, Adams and Blunt are a pretty believable pair. You can tell they care about each other but you know that they also infuriate each other too. Adams’ mousy and unobtrusive demeanor gives Rose, a former prom queen whose popularity has been waning ever since, the delicate balance of hope and resigned defeat necessary to make her sympathetic and likable. You just know that when she exits the shower to repeat the affirmations written on a post-it stuck to her foggy mirror that she only half believes what she’s saying, if that. Blunt on the other hand is not looking for anyone’s acceptance, not even her own. She makes good on her own name and delivers Norah with a direct frankness that reveals more than she realizes. For Norah, hope is not something she tries to force into her life; no, hope for Norah, just finds her and sneaks its own way into her consciousness.

SUNSHINE CLEANING definitely brings the sunshine in but it does so in such a downtrodden fashion that it makes it all the more meaningful to catch a glimpse and easy to ignore the clouds in the sky. It is a healing experience that never feels as though it is forcing its cleansing on the audience or itself. Instead, the sisters just feel compelled to clean because their lives have been dirty for far too long. What they find beneath the grime is an unexpected and infectious grin.


Written by Melissa Rosenberg
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke
Starring Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson

Edward Cullen: I wanted to kill you. I never wanted a human being’s blood so much.

It may occasionally sound like a vampire movie but TWILIGHT certainly doesn’t look like any vampire movie I’ve ever seen. For starters, some of these particular vampires are vegetarians. It is much less a movie about vampires as it a movie that just happens to have vampires. You might even say it is the BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN of vampire movies. This is not to say it is anywhere near as good; just that director Catherine Hardwicke cleared the path so that you could see the love and not just the blood lust one would expect. That love is shared between Bella and Edward (played by Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson). She just moved back to this tiny town to spend some time with her estranged father and he too just moved back to this same town after being away for a few decades. She is 17 and he looks like he’s 17 (he also looks like he’s ready for an all vampire cabaret revue with all that face makeup but that’s besides the point) but really he was born way back near the turn of the century, the last century. Doesn’t anyone else see something wrong with this picture? He could realistically be her great grandfather, people.

This is Bella’s story really and her perspective is what brings both sensitivity and assertive confidence to TWILIGHT. Bella’s relationship with her father is understandably tricky. Her newfound friends from school take some definite getting used to. And as if her life weren’t complicated enough already, what with the big move and the inevitable adjustment period, she just had to go and fall “hang upside down from the rafters” in love with a vampire. The best part about the somewhat ridiculous premise (I say somewhat because maybe vampires really do exist, even vegetarian ones), is that Hardwicke has grounded it firmly. Imagine a teenage movie where none of the “youngins” utter inspired brilliance every time they open their mouths. No, these folks are actually awkward; they actually don’t know what to say sometimes. And they actually live in a place where not everything they wear is right off the runway. All of this realism helps make the supernatural element all the more plausible but it also brings to light a couple of points of concern about the teenage girl.

TWILIGHT reinforces one of the most unfortunate clichés around these days. Every girl out there just really wants a bad boy. They don’t even care if they have admittedly drained innocent bodies of all their blood before. We should definitely make sure that the legions of young girls who see this film, or read the Stephanie Meyers book it is based upon, believe that love can resolve any obstacle, be that a difference of opinion, a disagreement or the distinct possibility that your boyfriend may one day wake in the middle of the night to find he can no longer resist the urge to drink your blood. It is easy to get sucked in to TWILIGHT’s lore (Get it? Sucked?) because we all have these distorted ideas of love ingrained inside of us but last I checked, a guy who sneaks into your room to watch you sleep is called a stalker, not a romantic. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from TWILIGHT though, it is that a teenage girl’s love is infinitely stronger than a vampire’s lust for blood. Oh, and that girls love all things that sparkle.

My apologies to the technical geeks and true fans out there. I had too much to say about this film to go into detail about all the blu-ray special features. I will just say that if you are a fan of this film, you will not be disappointed with which your admiration has been rewarded. There is feature commentary with the director and two leads; the behind the scenes featurettes go through most of the production stages and can be seen picture in picture on blu-ray (which, if you're like me and didn't know what that was before, means that you can watch the film and a separate screen will appear in the corner to give you information about the scene that is playing). On the whole, all the special features point towards the care with which this production came to life and how much it has meant to legions of fans. There are even music videos by Linkin Park and Paramore. You tell me, what more could a bloodthirsty teenage girl want?




Nicolas Cage wasn’t worried. He knew that his latest action masterpiece, KNOWING, would come out on top. It was written in binary code or something on some scrap of paper that was buried in a time capsule for over fifty years. Does that sound ludicrous? You should see KNOWING then. And see it, you did, to the tune of nearly $25 million. The film’s future as the box office champ was sealed on Friday when KNOWING took in in one day what Cage’s last number one “hit”, BANGKOK DANGEROUS, took in all weekend. Critics were less than enthused about Cages latest stagy offering but when has that ever deterred fans from seeing one of his films?

Two other wide releases tried hard to top Cage but could not. If only they too had read that code from fifty years ago, they would known it was never going to happen. Still, the Paul Rudd-Jason Segal bromance, I LOVE YOU, MAN, has nothing to be ashamed of with its second place debut. The film did similar business to Rudd last film, ROLE MODELS, and Segal’s first starring effort, FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL. With good word of mouth, the film could experience similar strong holds as their predecessors and find its way to a $60+ million gross. Coming in for a somewhat disappointing third place finish in Tony Gilroy’s follow up to MICHAEL CLAYTON, DUPLICITY. Sure a $14 million gross for reasonably wide release is decent business but this picture stars bonafide movie stars, Julia Roberts and Clive Owen. Their charisma alone should have carried this to a much stronger start. Reviews have been mixed so returns should dwindle fairly quickly, as should the two stars’ asking prices.

In limited release news, Sundance favorite from this year, SIN NOMBRE, opened strongly, while Sundance favorite from last year, SUNSHINE CLEANING continued its successful expansion. SIN NOMBRE walked away from Sundance with the cinematography prize as the prize for dramatic direction and this weekend, opened to the tune of a $12K per screen average on six screens. SUNSHINE CLEANING, jumped its theatre count from 4 to 64 and saw its returns explode over 200%. The Amy Adams-Emily Blunt indie comedy is being well received and jumps its count to over 250 next week. Meanwhile, the largest per screen average of any film in release belongs to VALENTINO: THE LAST EMPEROR. The documentary about the great fashion designer opened to over $20K per screen on just one screen in all of North America.

NEXT WEEK: The latest Renny Harlin action flick, 12 ROUNDS finds its way to 2,200 screens. It’s been a whole week without a wide horror release so THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT steps in to fill the void next week on 2,600 screens. And the Dreamworks Animation folks are hoping for a big score with the big film, MONSTERS VS. ALIENS (3,500 screens).

Source: Box Office Mojo

Friday, March 20, 2009


Written and Directed by Tony Gilroy
Starring Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti

Claire Stenwick: If I told you I loved you, would it even matter?
Ray Koval: If you told me or if I believed you?

Can you think of anything more satisfying than pulling a fast one on someone? It’s even more delicious when that particular someone is someone you care about or who has gotten you more times than you would like to remember. The look on their faces when they realize they’ve been had is worth every painstaking effort you had to make to pull it off. You would think then that DUPLICITY, a film in which two very likeable and sneaky folks, Julia Roberts and Clive Owen, who have proven chemistry together from working previously in Mike Nichols’ CLOSER, would be sticking it to each other so bad that you would delight in every jab they made at each other. Well, the ultimate joke would be on you then because, while writer/director, Tony Gilroy, positions DUPLICITY as a feisty heist movie by stepping up the cool factor any way he can, it is actually nothing more than a failed prank fallen flat on its pretty Hollywood face.

When we first meet Claire Stenwick and Ray Koval (Roberts and Owen), they are drinking it up in Dubai at the US consulate. She isn’t the least bit interested in him and he is working her as hard as he can. I didn’t hear it but he must have said the right thing at some point because they end up in bed together. Of course, she was only sleeping with him so that she could drug him and steal some super secret international spy stuff. And naturally, he put aside all of his super secret spy training and allowed himself to be taken in by her beauty. It is fleeting though - the moment, not her beuauty - and with very little chemistry or connection. Yet this is supposed to be the instance that binds the two in a lust that spans years and leads to what we’re told is true love. They reconnect years later in some other exotic shooting location and concoct a plan to dupe two high profile rival corporations (run by over acting Paul Giamatti and understated Tom Wilkinson) and make off with millions of dollars that will allow them to bask in exorbitantly rich bliss for the rest of their lives. It’s a fine plan but I wasn’t buying anything.

Gilroy’s last directorial effort was his first. MICHAEL CLAYTON earned him respect from critics and contemporaries alike as the film went on to earn a number of Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director for Gilroy himself. Gilroy enlisted some of the same players he worked with last time out, including composer, James Newton Howard, cinematographer, Robert Elswit and even Wilkinson rejoins the gang. How is it then that when all these folks got together last time, they achieved such subtle perfection while this time, Howard sounds as though he were ripping off the OCEAN’S 11 through 13 scores and Elswit is practically washed out? (Wilkinson is still great as he can do very little wrong in my book.) Perhaps the blame can be placed on Gilroy’s most tired screenplay in years. By keeping corporate espionage grounded in reality last time out, he made it fascinating and relatable. By infusing it with Hollywood convention, the whole game was played out before it even began.

DUPLICITY boils down to very little more than two pretty people running games on each other and anyone else they can. The trouble is that the games they’re running are amusing only to them and entirely transparent to the rest of us. The truly duplicitous nature of DUPLICITY it would seem is just that everyone on that side of the screen thinks they are so much funnier, so much sneakier and so much more dubious than what we on this side of the screen actually see. Once again, the cool kids are too ignorant to notice that they are nowhere near as cool as they think they are.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Written and Directed by Tony Gilroy
Starring George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton and Sydney Pollack

This Friday, Tony Gilroy's follow up to the Oscar nominated MICHAEL CLAYTON, DUPLICITY, hits theatres. Before Black Sheep takes a look at the repairing of Clive Owen and Julia Roberts, we would like to look back at Gilroy's thrilling directorial debut.

This is a movie about a man, precisely a man named Michael Clayton (George Clooney). The man behind the man is writer/director, Gilroy, (the man behind the words of another famous man you may know as the moniker of the Bourne series) and he is not the least bit interested in pandering to his first audience as a director. Each early scene establishes characteristics of Mr. Clayton’s personality that none of us would have necessarily expected. What we’re given is an intriguing, if not somewhat broken man, caught at a pivotal time in his life. The action does start shortly after all this establishment and while I may not have known Mr. Clayton to begin with, I certainly finished by wanting to know more.

Clayton is a lawyer who no longer litigates in a courtroom but whose major purpose is to clean up messes made by other lawyers in the firm that employs him. Originally, Clooney wanted to direct this project and had refused to star in it if it were to be directed by a first time director. Gilroy somehow convinced him of otherwise and it’s a very good thing he did. Clooney’s portrayal of Clayton is subtle and understated, certainly one of his finest. He is also surrounded by fiercely talented performances by Tom Wilkinson as a man on the brink of delusion and Tilda Swinton in an Oscar-winning performance as a corporate head who can barely keep that head above water. And while it is certainly the least showy performance, Sydney Pollack's turn as Clayton's boss should not go unnoticed as it was his last performance before his death last year.

Gilroy is one of the smartest writers in Hollywood these days and with MICHAEL CLAYTON, he reintroduces himself as an impressively meticulous director, crafting an intelligent thriller that brings more attention to the hero than most films do. By doing so, he makes it apparent that heroes are humans too and there is always more going on that you don’t know a thing about. I have now seen the film three times and it only gets better.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

WEEKEND BOX OFFICE: Race to Watchmen Mountain

No one considered the race to be much of one with any actual contest. WATCHMEN may have had a sturdy but not epic debut last week but certainly no one expected the spring’s most anticipated film to fall off by nearly 70% in its second week. And so RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN, a film I can’t imagine anyone was anticipating on any level whatsoever, was able to finish with a surprising first place. More embarrassing still, the race wasn’t even close.

Disney’s pursuit of fusing amusement park rides with big adventure movies in order to drive business back and forth between the two continued this weekend with RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN. With no other family fare in sight, save for CORALINE, which held up well despite the fresh competition, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was able to get those little space alien kids back to their home planet on top of the big, scary mountain (I didn’t actually see the movie so I’m guessing here) and give Disney a solid opening. The week’s other debuts went from decent (THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT) to embarrassingly bad (MISS MARCH). Well, MISS MARCH’s box office returns are proportionate to the intelligence of the premise so maybe it isn’t as embarrassing as it is appropriate.

Now, I have to get back to WATCHMEN. Warner Brothers is claiming that the 67% drop falls completely in line with other event pictures. They are right about that. After all, it only ranks 89th in terms of overall largest second week drops isn’t nearly as steep as the 80% plummet posted by FRIDAY THE 13TH last month. Still, I imagine they must have been making this statement through ground teeth. This was supposed to be a blockbuster and now it looks like it may go on to make as much as a movie about a mall cop. Where were the devout fans that have been supposedly waiting for years for this film to hit? Not only did they not show up in hordes (or in costume) for the premiere but those who did didn’t even care to see it a second time this weekend. It is all very un-geek-like.

And speaking of unexpected, a little female-skewed indie comedy starring Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, managed a debut per screen average of over $53K. SUNSHINE CLEANING, distributed by Overture pictures, opened on just four screens but brought in the highest per screen average of any film this year. The pic expands to 50 screens next week.

Overall, the box office was down 17% over last year, the first decline it has seen all year.

NEXT WEEK: Nicolas Cage knows too much (for a change) in THE KNOWING (3000+ screens); Jason Segal and Paul Rudd aren’t afraid to say I LOVE YOU, MAN (2500 screens) and Julia Roberts and Clive Owen reunite for the first time since CLOSER in Tony Gilroy’s first feature since MICHAEL CLAYTON, DUPLICITY (2400 screens). Look for the Black Sheep review of their latest adventure, as well as a previously unpublished review of the award winning MICHAEL CLAYTON, later this week.

Source: Box Office Mojo


Written by Peter Schaffer
Directed by Milos Forman
Starring F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge

Make no mistake, Milos Forman’s AMADEUS is unapologetically dramatic. This is a film that announces its tone within seconds of the image appearing on screen. A man we do not yet know has attempted kill himself by cutting his wrists. He is rushed to the hospital - if you can call a horse-drawn carriage rushing - while the intensely dramatic music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera, “Don Giovanni” fills the perfectly framed screen. From the extravagantly detailed costume and set pieces to the impeccable performance of F. Murray Abraham as a man who lives in the shadows of genius while God watches and laughs, AMADEUS is the kind of film where every element comes together to create a piece that is just as timeless as the music of the man whose life story it tells.

Screenwriter, Peter Shaffer never felt his Tony Award winning play about the most infamous of composers would make a very good film. How could a man so smart be so completely wrong about this? AMADEUS pits man against man, man against society and man against its own creator while never losing sight of the delicate ties that bind all of these violent struggles together and make life meaningful. Late 18th century Venetian Court Composer, Antonio Salieri, played by Abraham, never knew the rewards of outgrowing his functional duties for a taste of truly inspired creation. He knew the sound of the divine when he heard it though and he heard it in a young prodigy named Mozart, played with infectious exuberance by Tom Hulce. Knowing that only true musical beauty can be crafted when it is done so in tribute to God, Salieri knew that Mozart must have been a man of great stature and worth. Imagine his surprise, or perhaps more appropriately, his disgust, when he first laid eyes on Mozart, the composer having just missed the entrance for his performance because he was too busy frolicking with a peasant under a table in a private palace dining room.

Before he meets him, Salieri circles the room in which Mozart is supposed to play. He studies the faces and asks himself, “What is the face of genius?” Who among these men was capable of creating some of the most sumptuous and adventurous pieces of music he had ever heard. He was smart enough to ask that question but not open-minded enough to see the answer. Forman’s Mozart is a playboy, a rock and roll star. His youthful energy is scattered and misguided but his talent is unbound. More importantly, his ability is unmatched and Mozart knows this. He expects admiration; he demands appreciation; and, despite all his progressive thinking, he looks down upon those whom he deems not intelligent enough to understand his genius. The challenge for the viewer is to reconcile the image of Mozart, one we all only know as stately and still from portraits, with the baffling baffoonery of the childlike Mozart on the screen. The challenge for Salieri is far more personal and demanding.

Ever since he was a small child, Salieri wanted to please his God by giving him the gift of music. He wanted to channel the grace of God through his fingers and made promises to abandon all of life’s selfish pleasures in order to give this beauty back to God. When he was made Venetian Court Composer, he felt as though God had heard his prayers. When he heard Mozart’s compositions though, he knew that what stemmed from his own hands was nothing more than mediocrity. This was a reconciliation that he could not grasp. It is no wonder that Salieri’s struggle led to madness. His finely tuned ear was designed for the highest of appreciation and so he could not pretend that his work was anywhere near the standard he felt did justice to his God. Every time he hears another of Mozart’s works, he is ripped apart inside and you can see that tear in Abraham’s entire body. His jealousy drove him to make decisions designed to destroy Mozart when all the while, his passion longed for more of his inexplicably intricate music. He had always wanted to be Mozart but could barely stand being in his presence. How could any God have gone so wrong?

Genius is not earned but rather natural and certainly random in its selection. AMADEUS is one such instance of genius. Despite all of its potentially alienating period piece elements, Forman makes sure that the most relatable elements are always right up front. We have all at one time or another been in Salieri’s shoes. We have all wanted to produce work that resonates loudly and touches many because of its universal appeal and undeniable brilliance. We have also all questioned why we try time and time again after never quite reaching those heights. It isn’t about the man though; it is about the music itself, the appreciation of which always brought both composers to the same level ground, where they were admirers and adversaries no more. Only ego stood in the way of another of God’s gifts they both missed out on – friendship.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Black Sheep Previews: Tribeca 2009

A couple of days ago, I submitted my application to be accredited for media access to the upcoming 2009 Tribeca Film Festival. Naturally, I want in. And I swear that my showcasing a little preview of what the festival has in store for this year's New York filmgoers is not at all a cheap attempt to encourage a favorable decision from the press department. I mean, I'm sure they'll be pleased to see coverage on the site when they stop by for a visit but my intentions are entirely genuine, I assure you.

In all seriousness though, the 2009 Tribeca Film festival has put together a pretty exciting program this year. Less is more as the festival has compiled a program consisting of 86 feature films, 28% less than last year. Leave it to a trendy New York festival to trim the fat when excess is no longer in fashion. Besides, wait until you hear what they have in store.

The festival opens on April 22 with an impressive world premiere, the return of New York's quintessential director, Mr. Woody Allen. Hot off the success of international exploits, the Spain set, VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA and London based, MATCH POINT, Allen has come home to New York to set his latest feature, WHATEVER WORKS. As is the case with most Allen works, news on the feature is sparse. Actually, it is practically non-existent. I can tell you that WHATEVER WORKS stars Larry David (pictured below), Evan Rachel Wood, Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley Jr. On premiering his film at Tribeca, Allen says it is, "a lovely idea of showing my film in a film festival in my own city. It's very exciting." I couldn't agree more. I assume Mr. Allen will be there but this has not been confirmed.

Here are a handful of the other films that have captured my acutely focused attention ...

World Premiere
Directed by Jake Goldenberger
Thomas Hayden Church returns home after being away for 25 years against his will with his cancer-stricken girlfriend, played by Elizabeth Shue. Recent Academy Award nominee, Melissa Leo co-stars in this very dark comedy.

World Premiere
Directed by Cheryl Hines
The script itself is certainly intriguing. A wife (Meg Ryan) holds her husband (Timothy Hutton) captive after he announces that he is leaving her for a younger woman (Kristen Bell) until he is ready to commit to making their marriage work. What is even more exciting about this project is that the script was written by the late, Adrienne Shelley (WAITRESS).

World Premiere
Directed by Michael Cuesta
L.I.E. director and TV series, "Dexter" creator, Cuesta returns with his third feature film. This time out he goes the route of an Edgar Allen Poe horror story, in which a single dad with a recent heart transplant has to find the original donor to save him from a horrible fate.

New York Premiere
Directed by Yojiro Takita
The surprise winner of this year's Academy Award for Foreign Language Film, DEPARTURES tells the tale of a cellist who has returned home following the dissolution of his orchestra. Upon his return, he takes a job as an undertaker. I have to see what beat out WALTZ WITH BASHIR and THE CLASS.

World Premiere
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
This film actually debuted in an early cut at this year's Sundance Film Festival but this latest edit marks the first time Soderbergh's latest foray into serious indie fare in its entirety. This is five days in the life of a high-priced New York escort. I can't imagine anything dramatic about that.

And to think these are just six of the films to be making their marks at this year's Tribeca Film Festival. There are 80 others! There is a whole list of other films in official competition that I didn't even mention. Here's the deal, Tribeca people. I will go into detail about your other films once you accredit me. That sounds fair, right? C'mon ... I've got to meet Woody Allen. The man is like a little movie god type for me. In fact, I may actually pee if I do get the chance to meet him.

It would be totally worth it.

The 2009 Tribeca Film Festival runs from April 22 to May 3. For more information on the festival and how to get tickets, visit the official Tribeca Film Festival website.

Sunday, March 08, 2009


Written and directed by Wong Kar-wai

Ou-yang Feng: Though I’d lived here a long time, I’d never really looked at the desert.

Not all that stems from economic crisis is bad. When one such crisis struck Hong Kong in 1999, a warehouse went bankrupt and all who had items stored there needed to collect their belongings before morning. This is where the original footage of Wong Kar-wai’s ASHES OF TIME was kept. When the footage was picked up, it was found in pieces and needed to be put back together again. From this process, ASHES OF TIME REDUX was born. Over the course of a few years, the original footage had been restored so that China’s most prolific contemporary director could recut the film and present it officially for the first time to international markets. Fourteen years after its initial release, it is most certainly a welcome return.

ASHES OF TIME REDUX is a lonely film set against a backdrop so colorful and so lush that it feels as though it is both surrealistically unreal and painfully serious all at once. The experience is entirely engrossing and delightfully stimulating, forcing the viewer to face a loneliness that it would ordinarily turn away from. Ou-yang Feng (Leslie Cheung) kills for money. He gives you the chance to erase elements from your life that you don’t have the courage to take care of yourself. He lives a modest existence alone in the desert and waits for the world to come to him. And while he aids others to forget their pasts, he holds on tightly to his painful past with faithful fervor. The characters that come into his life are all kept at a reasonable distance and all leave him practically crushed by the walls that surround him. His tiny shack is certainly the coldest spot in this vast desert. It all comes together like a dream or a fable where no one perspective is right except the one from behind the camera.

The redux edition features a new score recording by Yo-Yo Ma, new act breaks added in by Kar-wai himself and a breathtaking restoration of Christopher Doyle’s extravagantly coloured cinematography. Now available to won, it has been packaged with a scant number of special features but while it may not offer much, what it does is plenty satisfying. A fifteen-minute “making of” features interviews with Kar-wai, Doyle and key members of the cast, like Kar-wai regular, Tony Leung. The interviews are drawn from the redux edition’s press tour at the Cannes film festival, where it played outside competition upon its completion. There is also a moderated Q&A with Kar-wai in New York. While Kar-wai may come off as pretentious to start, as he sits indoors with his sunglasses covering his eyes, all apprehension is dispelled when he speaks. This is an intelligent man with a deep appreciation for film and for the craft that went into this particular work. Furthermore, he appreciates his admirers and shares in their love for this film.

Watching ASHES OF TIME REDUX is like watching a modern and twisted interpretation of Shakespeare. The subversion of the characters and their larger meanings is playful but always mindful of the depth needed to bring the magnificent imagery to life. Kar-wai has said how difficult it was to make this epic, from its complex story to its elaborate wuxia fight sequences. It haunted him so much during the initial production that he broke from it during post-production to work on other projects. After so many years, I’m very pleased that this past did not go forgotten.