Sunday, May 31, 2009


Earlier this year, over the Martin Luther King Day long weekend, PAUL BLART: MALL COP debuted in theatres to a gross of $39.2 million. It went on to remain the most popular film in North America for three straight weeks and finished by pulling in $146 million. You really liked this movie. When I first saw the trailer, I thought, now there was a January dumping ground film if I’ve seen one before. And then you all went to see it. Not only did you see it but you told other people to see, judging from the slim week-to-week declines. Now that Mr. Blart is finally available to rent, I have seen it and I can’t say I share your admiration for mall security humour.

I will give you this. The best thing by far about PAUL BLART: MALL COP is Mr. Blart himself, Kevin James. James nails Blart. This is a pretty sad sack and your heart goes out to him immediately because James plays him with immense respect and sympathy for his position. This guy is in his forties and lives at home with his mother and teenage daughter. His wife left him after she got her green card and he has been working in mall security for ten years because he failed the police academy finals due to some serious hypoglycemia. He goes to work every day and gets no respect from his co-workers or the people he is paid to protect. James just laughs it off but he isn’t fooling anyone. This guy’s seriously unhappy, lonely and has huge confidence issues. James makes the movie but he’s got his work cut out for him with everything else in this movie that makes it ridiculous.

I should have known better. Check director, Steve Carr’s resume … DR. DOLITTLE 2, DADDY DAY CARE and ARE WE DONE YET? Apparently, Carr is the go to guy for low budget, simplistically broad family fare and PAUL BLART: MALL COP is his masterpiece. (I would love to be quoted in some paper calling this movie a masterpiece now.) I think I lost hope in the film when the mall was taken over by a bunch of skate boarding ninja punks looking to steal a bunch of credit card codes so they can fly to the Cayman Islands. That said, it was still a lot more enjoyable than that other mall cop movie, OBSERVE AND REPORT.


People love to watch other people fail. It is especially more delicious when the one falling is finally doing it after a number of successes. And while the industry people around the world consistently admire and appreciate the Pixar pictures, they are all still waiting to watch them fall on their faces. The logic is that a streak of success ten pictures long is not sustainable but if there is one thing Pixar is good at (and realistically, there are a great number of things they are great at), it is making the impossible happen and proving everyone wrong.

The truth of it is that people may speculate when the first Pixar failure will come but these same people all LOVE the Pixar movies. UP! is no exception to any of this. It is universally adored by critics and audiences alike and now, it has overcome a vague advertising campaign to become Pixar’s biggest opening in years. As far as comparable summer Pixar releases go, UP! and its $68 million take is the biggest Pixar opening since FINDING NEMO pulled in $70 million in 2003. The fish movie went on to make close to $340 million in North America alone. WALL-E and RATATOUILLE both debuted to less ($63 million and $47 million respectively) and went on to make over $200 million each domestically so UP! is certainly off to a bold start. Now we just have to see where the wind carries it over time.

Universal’s attempt to counterprogram against UP! was only moderately successful. Sam Raimi’s return to the horror genre, DRAG ME TO HELL, only brought in about $16 million to narrowly beat out the second week of TERMINATOR SALVATION, which stumbled more than it should have (-62%). DRAG ME TO HELL is actually only slightly less praised than UP! is but audiences did not buy into the high concept approach to horror. That old lady in the movie couldn’t afford her mortgage payments and people couldn’t afford to pay to watch her not afford those payments. Or maybe they were just more interested in seeing the second frame of NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: BATTLE OF THE SMITHSONIAN. The Ben Stiller McMovie dropped off a reasonable 52% considering it had intense competition from UP!.

Both EASY VIRTUE and THE BROTHERS BLOOM continued successful expansions this week. THE BROTHERS BLOOM nearly cracked the Top 10, coming in just behind OBSESSED with $652K on 148 screens. Perhaps by the time final figures come in tomorrow, it will have surpassed the Beyonce thriller. Though Black Sheep doesn’t believe Jessica Biel’s turn in EASY VIRTUE is that special, audiences are eating it up. The British farce added just 16 screens to its roster and saw its returns increase by nearly 70%. And although it has the third highest per screen average of any film playing, this year’s winner Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language film, DEPARTURES, did not do the kind of business befitted to an Academy Award winning film. $72K on 9 screens is respectable but hardly memorable. An earlier release would have helped significantly.

NEXT WEEK: Laugh it up, folks. Will Ferrell goes head to head with his former OLD SCHOOL director next week as LAND OF THE LOST (3300 screens) opens against the much buzzed about, THE HANGOVER (3200 screens). Oh, and if you’re a woman and want to laugh, well then you’ll be happy to hear that Nia Vardalos is back in theatres with MY LIFE IN RUINS (1100 screens). Or maybe laughing at people is much more your style. Mariah Carey returns to theatres in TENNESSEE (14 screens); she plays a waitress who wants to sing. It’s a big stretch. And finally, if you like your laughter with a little heart, Sam Mendes goes indie with AWAY WE GO. That’s where I’ll be.

Source: Box Office Mojo

Saturday, May 30, 2009


Written by Pete Docter and Bob Peterson
Directed by Pete Docter
Voices by Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer and Jordan Nagai

Charles Muntz: Adventure is out there!

On paper, Pixar’s tenth feature film, UP!, doesn’t make a lot of sense. A 78-year-old grump of a man named Mr. Frederickson (voiced by Ed Asner) fills thousands of balloons in the home he’s been living in his entire adult life and these balloons literally uproot his house from its foundation and carry it high into the sky. To complicate matters further, an over eager 8-year-old wilderness explorer named Russell (Jordan Nagai) has stowed away under the porch. Together, they must navigate this unlikely flying machine to South America so that Mr. Frederickson can find adventure before it’s too late. It sounds like an uphill battle to me but this is why it makes such perfect sense for UP! to come along when it has. There could be no better way to commemorate this Pixar milestone than with a film that inherently requires an imagination as lofty as the boundless sky to get it off the ground.

UP! is consistently unexpected. It is uproarious one minute and then uplifting the next. Director, Pete Docter (MONSTERS INC), along with his co-director, Bob Peterson, and indie director, Tom McCarthy, put together an improbable scenario and gave a rock solid foundation to a story that barely spends any time on the ground. Not too dissimilar to McCarthy’s THE VISITOR, Mr. Frederickson comes from a different era. He met his wife Ellie when he was just a wee lad and they went on to spend their entire lives together, the up’s and down’s of which are strung together in a touching montage that shows sorrowful realities that are usually left out of animated films. With the love of his life now gone, Mr. Frederickson no longer understands the world around him. He merely sees how he has no place in it and suddenly feels as though it has all been wasted time.

As Mr. Frederickson and Russell coast alongside the clouds, so do we on this 3D adventure. It certainly cannot be called facile but UP! has a certain breeziness to it, as though Docter has been driving his own house in the sky for ages now. There are some minor moments of turbulence (one talking dog is fine – especially when it is as adorable as Doug, voiced by co-writer, Peterson – a large pack of talking dogs is a little too, well, Disney for my tastes) but you never lose faith in your captain. Docter is smart to infuse UP! with themes but even smarter to know never to allow these themes to upstage his characters and their journey. Mr. Frederickson is an uptight, old crank but he is also a sensitive and loving husband. Russell is a clueless little boy but he means well and has his own issues with an absent father. Authentic and unwavering, they cannot help but influence the other while their up and coming friendship inspires us.

With the bar raised so high by their past efforts, Pixar needed UP! to reach the sky to get over it this time. Its upbeat tone and upstanding quality allow it to glide right on over that bar and its unpredictable path make the experience adventuresome, exhilarating and unforgettable. It is everything you would expect to feel if you suddenly found yourself in a flying house, which is to say nothing at all and everything all at once. After conquering both the vast ocean and the infinite space in outer space, Pixar can now proudly say that they rule the sky as well.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Black Sheep Previews: PRECIOUS

It would be hard to argue the point. A movie about an overweight 16 year-old-girl with a poor background who is pregnant with her second child is not a story that can reach the masses. Even when PUSH, as it was originally titled, made its debut at this year's Sundance film festival, no one would have thought it had any potential to go anywhere. And then it won both the jury prize and the audience award. The fact that is was sold at that point is not so surprising. What is surprising is who bought it. Here is this little movie with the potential to make anyone who watches it want to die a little and it gets bought up my Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey - two of the biggest mass appeal media moguls on the planet. All of a sudden, PRECIOUS - BASED ON THE NOVEL "PUSH" BY SAPPHIRE, as it has now been renamed, is competing at Cannes and is one of the most hotly anticipated titles of 2009. There is even Oscar talk.

PRECIOUS was written and directed by Lee Daniels. This is only Daniels' second film and I'm sure even he is surprised by the attention this project is now garnering. To watch the trailer, you can feel the spin machine working overtime to make the film seem as inspirational as it can be. I'm sure the film isn't completely devoid of positive messages but sugar coating is not going to fool anyone when you see images of mothers chasing after their daughters with frying pans. Oddly, that isn't nearly as frightening as Mariah Carey without makeup.

PRECIOUS will begin its limited run on November 6.


Written by Stephan Elliott & Sheridan Jobbins
Directed by Stephan Elliott
Starring Jessica Biel, Kristen Scott Thomas, Ben Barnes and Colin Firth

Mrs. Whittaker: Smile, Marion.
Marion Whittaker: I don’t feel like smiling.
Mrs. Whittaker: You’re English, dear. Fake it.

You pretty much know from the very start whether EASY VIRTUE will be an easy experience for you or an excruciating one. It opens with a big, bright opening musical number that cuts back and forth between a staged choreography, complete with fans and clam shells and a sepia soaked introduction to Jessica Biel as Larita, the first female race car driver, winning a race and finding the man of her dreams at the finish line. By the time you meet her man, John Whittaker’s (Ben Barnes) eccentric British family at their country home, the ridiculously dramatic tone of the film is completely set. It is forced, exaggerated and awkward. It isn’t until a few scenes later that it becomes apparent that THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT director, Stephan Elliott, is trying to be farcical on purpose. By that time, it hardly even seems to matter.

John has just married Larita without telling his family first and he is bringing his American girl home to meet Mum and Dad. Kristen Scott Thomas plays the matriarch of the household and she will have nothing to do with this American tart waltzing into her home and stealing her baby boy from her. After all, it was up to him to take over the house at some point and Larita being accustomed to life in the fast lane, means she will not be entertaining the notion of living in the country. And so the tug of war between mother and daughter-in-law begins. It isn’t pretty, let me tell you. It also isn’t that interesting. The son they are fighting over is a bit of a spineless drifter, first of all, so he hardly seems worth all the trouble. And then there are the ladies themselves. Thomas, who has been making something of a successful resurgence in the last year, looks as though she may implode at any moment as she frantically rushes about and barks nonsense at everyone. And then there’s Biel, who is clearly trying to improve her standing as a leading lady. She isn’t the presence she needs to be to throw this family into such turmoil and subsequently only half holds our own and our attention. Colin Firth is the only presence that grounds everything. This is primarily because he seems about just as interested in being there as we are.

Elliott never quite seems to get a grasp on how he wants EASY VIRTUE to play out. Once the battle between the ladies is fully on, it finds an acceptable pace but it is still strained. People occasionally sing out of nowhere. Modern songs are repurposed with a big band sound to contemporize the period genre. And he is constantly forcing camera tricks to spice things up but they are entirely transparent. You end up waiting for the only possible conclusion to come and realizing pretty quickly that this film is about as virtuous as it is easy.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

WEEKEND BOX OFFICE: Stiller Takes Down the Terminator

Overcrowding at the box office is standard fare during the summer months. I always feel that the films could be better spread out but studios continue to insist upon pitting film against film instead of just picking perhaps more quiet weekends to let films find their own audiences. I just have to learn though that it isn’t about everyone having their own day; it’s about coming out strong and taking down the other guy while you’re at it.

Prognosticators were torn on how this weekend would play out. On the one hand, TERMINATOR SALVATION was tracking very well and seemed to be riding some pretty strong buzz. On the other hand, NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: BATTLE AT THE SMITHSONIAN was coming a hugely successful following for the first film and a lack of family fare in the market place. Most had their money on NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM as family films tend to do big business on Memorial Day weekend. They would have won their bets but grossly overshot how much they would win by. Some predictions had the film coming in at $75 million but it only brought in $53 million in the end. While well below what they may have been hoping for, it is still much better than the first adventure’s opening weekend take of $30 million and that one went on to make over $250 million.

The buzz for TERMINATOR SALVATION seemed to dissipate pretty quickly as soon as the weekend hit. The McG directed film, the first in the series to come out since 2003, capitalized on the demand by coming on Thursday to the tune of $13 million, including midnight screenings. Poor reviews though, from both critics and fans, may have shortened the lines. Personally, I felt that the critics were being more harsh than needed but regardless, McG’s franchise reboot has a much more difficult road ahead of it as it goes into its next two expected installments. Meanwhile, the STAR TREK reboot continues to travel at warp speed. It has now brought in over $180 million in just three weeks and should have no problems crossing the $200 million mark by next weekend.

The Top 10 saw only one other debut and it did what was expected. DANCE FLICK did mediocre business and will likely end up making is reported $25 million budget back but not doing much else past that. And below the Top 10, THE BROTHERS BLOOM and SUMMER HOURS continued to add theatres and grosses. Each saw their returns increase over 300% and their averages in and around $7K per screen. Although there are no estimates reported for Steven Soderbergh’s sexy THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE, the week’s best art house debut goes to EASY VIRTUE (Black Sheep review to come this week). This British farce, with Jessica Biel making a play for more leading parts, pulled in a solid $11K average. Reviews are mixed though so Biel will need to try again. I would suggest she take off some clothes but she already has and that went straight to video.

NEXT WEEK: Pixar tries to make it 10 for 10 with their latest feature, UP! An animated feature about an old grump and a boy scout in a flying house seems like a hard sell to me but they made rats in the kitchen and a half silent film about a robot work so I don’t underestimate anything they put out. UP! will be released on 3700 screens. The only other wide release next weekend is looking for a decidedly different market. Sam Raimi’s financing horror flick, DRAG ME TO HELL, opens on 2400 screens. Outside of that, THE BROTHERS BLOOM goes wide and this year’s Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film, DEPARTURES, from Japan, will finally hit North American theatres.

Source: Box Office Mojo

Friday, May 22, 2009


Written by John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris
Directed by McG
Starring: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Moon Bloodgood, Bryce Dallas Howard and Anton Yelchin

John Connor: I knew it was coming but this is not the future my mother warned me about.

The TERMINATOR series has always had large gaps between installments. The first installment debuted to modest results in 1984; the second followed in 1991 and crossed over to the mainstream thanks to James Cameron’s patient and human approach to the action blockbuster. The third film came out in 2003 and essentially killed the series. Many thought that would be the end but McG, a director with a spotted history at best, recently resurrected the franchise. McG believed that there was more to this story to tell and new ways to tell it. As far as I can tell after having seen TERMINATOR SALVATION, he was pretty much wrong on both fronts. The story is just more of the same and, while the visual style and setting are certainly new, they are heavily borrowed from the gaming realm so I’m not sure they can be called new in the original sense of the word.

McG makes films that either go big or go home. This one certainly went big but it did so with its bags packed and ready to go home at any moment. This is the first in the series to take place in the future, 2018 to be precise. Every previous installment has taken place in present day and played with time and space. Terminators and power players from the resistance have gone back and forth in time to make sure that certain events either do or don’t take place so that certain other events in the future either do or don’t take place. TERMINATOR SALVATION is no different. John Connor (Christian Bale, who often seems to have forgotten that he isn’t playing Batman this time) is the leader of the resistance. The resistance is a small group of human beings who were fortunate enough to survive Judgment Day but, as a result of their survival, then had to fight the machines in order to maintain their survival. The machines orchestrated Judgment Day as a means to wipe out humanity and rule the planet. Humanity created the machines to begin with. It isn’t a terribly complicated plot after you go over it a couple of times in your head but TERMINATOR SALVATION does very little to advance that plot, which begs to question why it was even made.

As far as I can tell, it was made to indulge a need to see the war that was always only alluded to in the previous films. Stylistically, McG has crafted a dank and dismal post-apocalyptic planet. For a film about salvation, there doesn’t seem to be much left to salvage. The land is barren and there is destruction everywhere you look. And while there isn’t much new to absorb from a plot perspective, there is still plenty to enjoy in terms of action. The Terminators have only one purpose – to kill or capture any human they come in contact with – and they never sway from that purpose. They are relentless and have no fear so their threat is always very real and constantly frightening. As it takes so much to kill them, it never feels as though humanity’s mission will be realized. That said, it is quite clear that McG spent a great deal of time preparing for this film by locking himself in his basement with his Xbox. Many sequences seem like they have taken perspectives I have seen in many a war game (inevitably being played by someone else as I only observe instead of play games). His technical approach shuns the organic and almost makes it seem as though he is rooting for the machines.

TERMINATOR SALVATION is the first in a new trilogy of Terminator films. Its bleak tone will ensure that it doesn’t cross over the way T2 JUDGMENT DAY did. It simply isn’t that accessible. You need to know the history to understand the plot properly but as the plot is second to the action, it can still be greatly enjoyed by appreciating just this aspect. If McG wanted to redefine the series, he didn’t have to look any further than this film’s newest character, Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington). Half machine, half human, Marcus asserts his humanity with his live, beating heart found beneath his metallic frame. McG focused too heavily on the frame and forgot what keeps everything alive.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Black Sheep Previews: NINE

Go ahead ... click the video. Watch it. I have. And let me tell you, you should. It's pretty darn exciting.

In 2002, Rob Marshall shimmied his way downstage like it was nobody's business with the Oscar winning musical that restored faith in the musical genre itself, CHICAGO. He also garnered an Oscar nomination for himself as Best Director. Not too bad for his first feature. In 2005, he took his promise and practically squandered it all on the gorgeous but hollow, MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA. Four years have now passed and Marshall has returned to what he knows he can do well, the musical. NINE originally opened on Broadway in 1982. It was based on an Italian play that itself was inspired by Federico Fellini's autobiographical film, 8 1/2. The premise, in which a director has come to a creative and existential midlife crisis and is torn by the abundance of women in his life, is convoluted enough but the cast, the cast is bewildering. Daniel Day-Lewis will sing as the lead, Guido Contini. We don't hear him sing in the trailer but there isn't anything Day-Lewis can't do. As if that weren't enough though, the women in his life will be played by Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Judi Dench, Kate Hudson, Fergie and Sophia Loren. That is a lot of lady and a whole lot of potential for drama.

The trailer is as playful as it is colorful. Marshall seems bent on humbling his own persona as Dench goes on about how little a director truly does but then shoves so many visually startling images in our faces as if to say, "THIS is what a director does!" I know what I'll be doing on November 25 when NINE is finally released.


Written and Directed by Carlos Cuaron
Starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna and Guillermo Francella

Batuto: Everything in life is a bet. The soccer ball either hits the goal post and bounces out or it bounces in and becomes a goal.

There is nothing like the bond between brothers and there could be no better screen brothers than Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna in the Mexican soccer comedy, RUDO Y CORSI. They may have only really made one film together prior to this one (that being Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN), but the two understated actors have such a great camaraderie together on screen that it seems only natural that they be paired up as often as possible. Last time out, Bernal and Luna played best friends that crossed a certain line most bromances never do. This time out, they return and reunite with the co-writer of Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN, Carlos Cuaron, who wrote that film with the director and his brother, Alfonso Cuaron (CHILDREN OF MEN). As brothers, there is no line to even consider crossing so all we’re left with is brotherly love – from the comfort and confidence that only brothers can share to the intense competition that only brothers know better.

RUDO Y CORSI translates to “rough and corny”. Luna is Rudo and Bernal is Corsi, despite both actors’ pleas to Cuaron that they each felt more closely related to the other character. Cuaron, Carlos that is, cast them in the opposite roles for exactly this reason. These brothers have grown up in shacks and both have big dreams of living well someday. They run their daily game in the banana fields and their weekend games on the soccer field, where they are both discovered by wily talent coach, Batuto (Guillermo Francello). The trouble is, he can only bring one of the two to the big leagues and a penalty shot decides that Corsi will be joining. Rudo ends up going as well later but the damage has been done. The two are forced to live with each other and play against each other while the public eats them up and they fall prey to the pratfalls of a fast paced life in Mexico City. Their sincerity never leaves them though and it is their small town sensibility that gets them through their troubles even though it is arguably what got them there to begin with.

Cuaron stepped up his role from writer on Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN to writer/director for RUDO Y CORSI, and his transition is a pretty run across the field. His decisions are sometimes questionable but they are always consciously being made and appreciated. The most peculiar of his decisions is not including that much footage of Rudo, Corsi or anyone else for that matter actually playing soccer. We don’t see the game that got them noticed; we don’t see the goals that got them famous. Instead, soccer becomes this mythical place where they are both gods and we get them when they are away from where they excel and are revered. In other words, we get to see them when they’re just trying to make it all work. In doing so, Cuaron may alienate people expecting a straightforward sports film but he grounds the brothers and the movie by tying them closer to the people off the field instead. And even though we cannot see it, we know Cuaron made the goal.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Black Sheep presents BLU-TUESDAY

Today is my first day without a real job outside of this here writing thing that I’m doing for you right now. I figured, why not start the day with a brand new Black Sheep feature called BLU-TUESDAY? Here at Black Sheep Reviews, we like to consider ourselves cutting edge. We don’t usually say that out loud because it inherently takes away from your credibility and the honest truth is that we’re not actually that cutting edge; we just wish we were. That said, I have fully immersed myself in the new high definition Blu-Ray culture. In a matter of months, I have amassed about 30+ Blu-Ray discs. This is nowhere near as hardcore as some people I know (yes, I mean you!) but I am for the most part thrilled with the quality of my new found toys. This leads me to this new feature. Every Tuesday that warrants a mention will be Blu-Tuesday from here on in and Black Sheep will break down what’s Blu, new and ready to take its place on your freshly dusted shelf.

It has been ages since I’ve seen this baby but with the newest installment hitting theatres this Thursday, it seems to me to be perfect timing for a step back in time. It is the summer of 1991 and before long, I will have shaved half my head and left the other half long so that I could look a little more like Edward Furlong in TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY. I already had the cracked squeaky voice so I figured I would go all in. Although, it has already made its Blu-debut previously, Lionsgate is releasing the Skynet Edition and a six-disc complete collectors set today to capitalize on the near deafening buzz the new McG film has generated. The difference in price between the two is apparently $30 vs. $180, so you’d best be a real fanatic if you’re going to go the collector’s route. That said, you get a neat robot terminator skull (T-800 Endoskull to be precise) with the pricier package. The rest of the details are as follows:

- 8 hours bonus content
- 1080p format
- 6.1 DTS HD master audio
- Theatrical & Special version of film
- 140 minutes behind the scenes (picture in picture)
- Audio commentary with 26 cast & crew members
- Audio commentary with director, James Cameron
- Storyboard script mode
- BD live and more

The HBO people didn’t get where they are by being dumb. They have consistently delivered quality television programs and those programs have delivered consistently solid sales on DVD. This is likely because most folks don’t have access to watch directly on HBO and people like to catch up on their quality programming all at once. That said, without access to watch, it is difficult some times to get the word out on their shows. Their latest success is TRUE BLOOD, a modern vampire series where vampires walk among the living and try to co-exist from Alan Ball, the creator of SIX FEET UNDER and Academy Award winning writer of AMERICAN BEAUTY. To make sure people knew about it, HBO included a free DVD copy of the pilot episode with the purchase of any other HBO series. I have to this day only seen the pilot and, like any pilot, there were kinks to work out but star, Anna Paquin, is looking great and there seems to be plenty on the horizon to sink my teeth into. Right. The features are:

- Picture in Picture for each of the 12 episodes
- Six cast and crew commentaries (including Ball)
- True Blood previews

Pixar also has an impending release with their 10th feature, UP!, hitting theatres on the 29th. Many of their previous features are not yet available on Blu-Ray so it seems like the right time to get in on that. MONSTERS INC is expected later this year and FINDING NEMO and THE INCREDIBLES are in the works but for now, we get A BUG’S LIFE. This remains to date, Pixar’s least successful film but, personally, it remains one of my favorites of all their films. One little ant can do anything. It’s a pretty simple message but Pixar gives it nuances that make it universal and particular simultaneously. It is empowering and encouraging and therefore perfect for both adults and children. Pixar did what they did for a toy chest previously and made this tiny ant world seem like the biggest, most authentic world that ever existed. This is what I love about Pixar; they make you believe. That and they never do anything half-assed; The Blu-Ray disc contains all the features from the previous DVD release and:

- 2.35:1 widescreen
- 5.1 DTS HD master audio
- John Lasseter (director) intro
- Filmmaker roundtable
- First draft (animating storyboards to life)
- Digital copy
- BD live options

There you have it, people. Now get out there and spend! The economy needs you.

Monday, May 18, 2009

WEEKEND BOX OFFICE: Demons Over Angels

Two years ago, around this same time, director, Ron Howard and novelist, Dan Brown, unleashed THE DA VINCI CODE on the planet. It pulled in about $77 million in North America and blew away everyone’s expectations. The book itself was a phenomenon and that spilled over onto the screen and across the planet. That said, people may have flocked to see it but they didn’t leave happy. Howard and Brown are back again with ANGELS & DEMONS but it seems to me that despite their angelic efforts, the demonic taste their last outing left in people’s mouths has ultimately won out.

ANGELS & DEMONS has brought in an estimated $48 million in returns but that is a far cry from the opening gross of its predecessor. Reviews for both the book and the film were better this time out but there was no urgency this time out. Still, the haul was still solid and no one call ANGELS & DEMONS a disappointment. This is especially true when you factor in the international returns. ANGELS & DEMONS, the continued adventures of Tom Hanks as supreme symbologist, Robert Langdon, pulled in a little over $104 million in 96 countries to easily capture the international crown with a total of $152.3 million. Not to take away from this success but THE DA VINCI CODE did bring is $155 million internationally and a grand total of $232 million. I’ll stop harping; ANGELS & DEMONS is not THE DA VINCI CODE after all and fans can also appreciate that because it is definitely a better film too.

Howard, Hanks and Brown (not a law firm) only narrowly captured the top position in North America as last week’s champ, STAR TREK, came in just behind with $43 million. A 42% drop for a fan heavy summer blockbuster is extremely respectable. This is especially true when you consider the 65%+ drop of WOLVERINE in its second weekend. WOLVERINE tapered off this week with only a 44% drop but in just two weeks, STAR TREK has nearly totaled more than WOLVERINE has in three weeks ($147 million vs. $151).

As there were no other debuts in the Top 10, which did about 4% better than the same weekend last year when PRINCE CASPIAN debuted with $55 million, we can go straight to the excitement happening below it. The oft delayed, THE BROTHERS BLOOM, starring Adrian Brody, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel Weisz, finally came out and actually did well. It didn’t capture the honor of having the highest per screen average around but it did fare better than ANGELS & DEMONS, with an average of over $20K on just 4 screens. The highest per screen average around actually went to French export, SUMMER HOURS, starring Juliette Binoche. The film in which siblings let go of their past during an estate sale pulled in over $24K per screen on just 2 screens. This week’s only other major platform debut was a disappointing finish for the Steve Zahn/Jennifer Aniston indie, MANAGEMENT. The film debuted on 212 screens and brought in less than $2K per screen. Promotion was pretty minimal though so I guess that was what management expected.

NEXT WEEK: ANGELS & DEMONS does not stand a chance against the overcrowded weekend that is coming. First off, on the smaller fare front, THE BROTHERS BLOOM will expand. Steven Soderbergh’s brilliant and beautiful, THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE hits 30 screens across the country. And Jessica Biel debuts her British farce, EASY VIRTUE. When it comes to bigger movies, I think the biggest casualty will be the Wayans Brothers spoof, DANCE FLICK (2300 screens). It’s going to come down to two intensely different movies battling it out for the top spot. Ben Stiller returns in NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM 2 (4000 screens), hoping to repeat the long-term success of his first family hit. McG and Christian Bale though are back with a reenergized franchise on Thursday as TERMINATOR SALVATION (3500 screens) finally declares war on the multiplexes.

Source: Box Office Mojo

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Black Sheep's Summer Longin' (Part Two)

The summer movie season is often pretty top heavy, with studios packing all their bigger fare is at the beginning and letting some of their untested hopefuls trickle in near the end. I always prefer the later days of summer myself. Sure, it’s winding down but I always find that it just forces you to be in the moment and appreciate that summer is still upon you rather than focus on its inevitable departure. And, aside from the return of Quentin Tarantino (INGLORIOUS BASTERDS), there is plenty to help you carry the feeling of a warm summer night well into the fall.

500 DAYS OF SUMMER Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber Directed by Marc Webb Starring Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt Release Date 07/17 I’m pretty sure that summer consists of about 100 or so days and not 500 but I’m not so great with math so I don’t want to make any bold statements. I do know that this Sundance favorite from first time feature filmmaker, Marc Webb, has the potential to capture many a heart. On paper, it doesn’t sound so fresh. We’ve got a guy who falls in love with a girl and the big twist here is that he’s a romantic and she’s a realist. From the trailer though, it seems to me that Webb may have figured out how romance and realism need to learn to work together to make a successful relationship. The film also boasts two of today’s most promising younger actors, Zooey Deschanel and Gordon Joseph-Levitt, so you know you are in for a good time one way or another. The question is, will you still be having as much fun the next morning.

FUNNY PEOPLE Written and Directed by Judd Apatow (KNOCKED UP) Starring Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen and Leslie Mann Release Date 07/31 You may not know this, and the trailer is actually smart enough to point it out, but comedy juggernaut, Judd Apatow, has actually only made two movies himself. They are THE FORTY YEAR OLD VIRGIN and KNOCKED UP. No, he didn’t make SUPERBAD; no, he didn’t make FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL or PINEAPPLE EXPRESS. Everyone just assumes he does because his name is always tossed around in the trailer just because he is associated in some way with the film. FUNNY PEOPLE is his third film and, not only does it look sharp, but it seems much more subtle than overtly comedic. Apatow understands that life isn’t easy but he also gets that it’s pretty darn funny even when it sucks. This is what makes him the most authentic comedy writer to come around in years and what makes everyone want to be him.

TAKING WOODSTOCK Written by James Schamus Directed by Ang Lee (BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN) Starring Demitri Martin, Emile Hirsch and Liev Schreiber Release Date 08/14 This is an example of my total bias when it comes to certain directors. To watch the preview for this film, I wouldn’t say that it necessarily looks like a masterpiece but this is Ang Lee. This is the man behind THE ICE STORM, CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON and BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. I love these movies. Sure, he also made THE INCREDIBLE HULK (the first one) and LUST, CAUTION. These weren’t great and everyone is entitled to make a few mistakes along the way. And yes, it is entirely possible that TAKING WOODSTOCK will go the wrong way but I am always willing to give Mr. Lee the benefit of the doubt. The cast is intriguing, the sexuality is ambiguous and the setting is ripe with potential and sweaty young people. I remain optimistic.

JULIE & JULIA Written and Directed by Nora Ephron (SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE) Starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams Release Date 08/07 If you ask Meryl Streep how she feels about her newfound box office clout, she will tell you that she is more surprised than anyone and doesn’t have any explanation for it. I say that as if it is that easy to just run into her and ask her such a plain question but I did read that somewhere. In recent summers, with THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA and MAMMA MIA!, Streep has become the queen of summer counterprogamming and a champion for female driven box office success. Her latest reunites her with DOUBT co-star Amy Adams and is based on two real life stories – that of famous chef, Julia Child (Streep) and a woman who became famous by drawing inspiration from Child, Julie Powell (Adams). To watch Streep as Child, you can almost smell her next Oscar nod and potential win considering how long it’s been since she last took one home. You know Hollywood is waiting for the right moment to give her her third trophy and they may not need to wait much longer.

PAPER HEART Written by Nicolas Jasenovec and Charlyne Yi Directed by Nicolas Jasenovec Starring Charlyne Yi and Michael Cera Release Date 08/07 Now this one has me hooked. Charlyne Yi is this tiny little lady, small in stature but big on awkward hilarity. Maybe you remember her as Jodi, one of Seth Rogen’s peculiar housemates in KNOCKED UP. If you don’t, it doesn’t matter. She is now the subject of a faux documentary called PAPER HEART. In it, she plays herself and is on a mission to understand love as she herself has never experienced it. Being herself, she has the chance to speak to many a friend in the film industry, like Rogen and Demitri Martin (who makes his major acting debut in TAKING WOODSTOCK, incidentally). She also comes across Michael Cera along the way. In real life, Cera is Yi’s boyfriend. In the movie, they meet and fall in love while she is supposed to be making a movie about how elusive that darn emotion is. It’s self-referential heaven! And I will watch Cera is just about anything. That said, I’m still not sold on YEAR ONE yet.

So, as you can see there are plenty of reasons to forego a game of soccer in the park or a trip to a theme park with the family this summer. In fact, why bother with beautiful weather and beautiful people soaking in said beautiful weather when you can run to the nearest theatre and enjoy the air conditioning all by your lonesome? Hmmm … I think I need to get out more.

Have a safe and happy summer!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Black Sheep's Summer Longin' (Part One)

It’s gotten off to quite the start. Sure, WOLVERINE was pretty dull but STAR TREK blew our minds into warp speed before the momentum could be lost. Even ANGELS & DEMONS isn’t all that bad really. All in all, it is a pretty great summer movie season already and we’re still a good few weeks away from it actually being summer. And I’m excited! This doesn’t usually happen to me. I feel like I want to see it all. I even want to see that Sandra Bullock/Ryan Reynolds fake wedding movie. I’ve got summer fever apparently, which is better than swine flu, I suppose. Anyway, I’ve narrowed down the films I am most keyed up for down to 10 and the following is the first half …

UP! Written by Bob Peterson Directed by Pete Docter (MONSTERS INC) Co-Directed by Bob Peterson Voices by Edward Asner and Jordan Nagai Release Date 05/29
Don’t we love to watch people fail? Pixar has successfully released nine consecutive hits, both critically and financially and people are just waiting for them to trip up. At first, I thought the haters probably didn’t have much longer to wait with UP! Here you have a story about a 78-year-old man who wants nothing to do with society and decides it is high time he inflate the hundreds of balloons he’s got lying around with helium so he can leave it all on the ground. And who does this old man hang out with, albeit reluctantly, an 8-year-old boy scout. It all sounds potentially awkward and unfunny but the early reviews from Cannes are flying very high. If there’s one company I will always give the benefit of the doubt to, it’s Pixar. Bring on the old guy and his balloons already!

DEPARTURES Written by Kundo Kuyoma Directed by Yojiro Takita Starring Masahiro Motoki Release Date 05/29
I was concerned there would be WALTZ WITH BASHIR upset at the Oscars this year in the Foreign Language film category. Not that I didn’t like the animated documentary; I just really wanted to see THE CLASS take the Oscar home … that and I had THE CLASS on my Oscar poll. I was certainly surprised to hear that DEPARTURES would take the honour over both titles. And though I would likely never have noticed this film if it didn’t win the Oscar, I need to know why it won now. All I know about it is that an out of work cellist takes a job in funeral home preparing the dead for their viewings and that director, Takita, used to do porn. What more do you need to know though?

THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE Written by Brian Koppelman and David Levien Directed by Steven Soderbergh (CHE) Starring Sasha Grey and Chris Santos Release Date 05/22
To be honest, I can’t say that I am very excited about seeing this film but that’s pretty much because I already have seen it. I am actually just excited for everyone else to see it. I caught this film at the Tribeca Film Festival in a private press screening and had the privilege of meeting Mr. Soderbergh and Ms. Grey the next day for an interview. The interview itself will be published next week to coincide with the film’s release so you can soak it in all at once. Trust me, there is plenty to soak too in this behind the scenes look at what it takes to be a high priced escort in today’s crumbling economy. TGE is a very relevant, very timely picture that is not only fascinating but also sharp and brilliant to behold visually.

AWAY WE GO Written by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida Directed by Sam Mendes (REVOLUTIONARY ROAD) Starring John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph Release Date 06/05
After winning an Oscar for AMERICAN BEAUTY, Sam Mendes has only had mixed success with his films. Some have even suggested that his accomplishments were a total fluke. He returns to cinemas this summer though with a decidedly different approach that may just remind people why they felt he had such promise to begin with. In AWAY WE GO, John Krasinski (“The Office”) and Maya Rudolph (“Saturday Night Live”) play an unmarried couple in their early thirties who are expecting their first child. With the ultimate responsibility coming on quickly, they realize that they haven’t really gotten a strong hold on this game called life just yet. So they set out to find a new place to call home so that they can grow into the capable adults they know they can be if they just put their minds to it. Its unpolished look and fresh screenplay could mean that Mendes is looking for a new place to call home himself.

WHATEVER WORKS Written and Directed by Woody Allen (VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA) Starring Larry David and Evan Rachel Wood Release Date 06/19
We all know that Woody Allen is often hit or miss. Still, I always look forward to seeing which way it’s going to go. In this case though, there is the Larry David factor. David stresses me out ordinarily. However, a friend bought me a complete season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” for my birthday and, much to my surprise, I actually enjoyed it. He still stressed me out but I got over my reluctance to watch him in anything so now I am ready for more. I actually think that Allen and David will make a perfect match; their social anxieties may just compliment each other brilliantly. The prospect of an inappropriate relationship between David and Evan Rachel Wood, a good forty-year gap, may be a little trickier though.

Part 2 of Black Sheep's Summer Longin' will be here tomorrow. Will you?

Friday, May 15, 2009


Written by David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman
Directed by Ron Howard
Starring Tom Hanks, Ayelet Zurer, Ewan McGregor and Armin Mueller-Stahl

Camerlengo Patrick McKenna: Science and religion are not enemies. There are simply some things that science is too young to understand.

It all appropriately starts out of focus. If there are secrets that have remained elusively intact throughout history, they belong to the Roman Catholic church, buried somewhere deep within the Vatican archives. And if there is one fictional character capable of deciphering these cryptically encoded secrets, it is Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks). While originally written as a prequel to THE DA VINCI CODE, author, Dan Brown’s ANGELS & DEMONS has been translated to film as a sequel to the controversial counterpart. Last time out, the general consensus was that the book was better than the movie and, from what I gather, most Brown fans consider ANGELS & DEMONS to be a better book. Ron Howard, the director of both projects, has got a lot to live up to. As the film comes into focus though, it becomes clear that Howard has ignored the fans prayers and this film in the likeness of the first.

The two uncredited stars of ANGELS & DEMONS are introduced in the first few scenes. They are science and religion. Howard gives us religion by inundating the viewer with extreme close-up’s of was seals on parchment and incense burners. The iconography is meant to be grandiose and looming but actually comes across as dated and cliché. Science comes in the form of anti-matter. A team of scientists is about to whipe opposing protons and atoms at each at an incredible speed inside a great big tube underground that could potentially devastate most of Europe if the experiment were to go awry. Needless to say, it does not and subsequently, science and religion meet in the experiment’s success with what is called the God particle. It also just so happens that a pope has just died and the process has begun to choose a new one. Someone on the inside of the Vatican walls decides that this period of transition is the perfect time to use this God particle to bring down God’s representation here on earth.

THE DA VINCI CODE, initially book and inevitably the film, were decidedly controversial. Brown presented theories about Jesus’ lineage that would essentially question a serious chunk of Catholic history. ANGELS & DEMONS however, is certainly more violent but also much less an attack on the religion itself and much more just a mystery that takes place in religious settings. Hanks returns as Langdon. He is not surprisingly solid in the role but he doesn’t bring anything new at the same time. Langdon must solve a series of puzzles that were created centuries prior in order to map out a course that will lead to four cardinals that have been kidnapped and threatened with murder. What makes ANGELS & DEMONS distinctly more gripping than its predecessor is Langdon’s time limit. He must figure out the puzzles and hit certain points in Vatican City at certain hours and he seems to be constantly playing catch-up. In this regard, the new Langdon is sharp but human after all.

It is fashionable if not just facile these days to base a premise on the promise that the end days are coming. Given its religious context, ANGELS & DEMONS is one of the few films to deal with the subject that actually seems justified in doing so. It asks the question whether the end will come at the hand of God or the hand of man but goes even further to suggest that the hand of man is just an extension of the hand of God. Unfortunately, Howard’s hand lacks the gravitas of the Creator’s.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

OUTRAGE: An interview with writer/director, Kirby Dick

In June of 2007, then Idaho Senator, Larry Craig, was arrested in a Minneapolis airport. He engaged in conversation with another man in the bathroom stall next to his and, before long, their shoes touched. Craig didn’t know it at the time but the man whose shoes he had become acquainted with was a police officer. Albeit a victim of entrapment, he was arrested on suspicion of lewd conduct and the 64-year-old senator was forced to have his sexuality become the hot topic on Capital Hill and across the national media. Despite the evidence against him, Craig vehemently denied being gay. He claimed that the officer misconstrued their conversation. He claimed this as loud as he could in the mainstream media. The message was clear; Craig had been accused of being a degenerate and a deviant, and that was something he would not allow to go unchallenged. Documentary filmmaker, Kirby Dick, has taken that challenge with, OUTRAGE, a film that outs closeted gay politicians as the hypocrites they are.

“I would much prefer that a gay politician come out on their own, even if there is some pressure on him or her, to do so themselves., for everyone involved,” Dick insists. “When it rises to this level of hypocrisy though, one way or another, it should be reported.” A number of gay men have publicly stated that they have either had sex with Craig or been in sexual scenarios with him. It would seem the evidence is stacked against him but, with his wife by his side, Craig has repeatedly denied his homosexuality. Craig has also voted against gay rights, from marriage issues to hate crime legislation. With his setup, he gets to explore his sexuality in private while living what is deemed as a respectable life in public. To do so though, he must deflect suspicion by voting anti-gay. It is not of interest to Dick that Craig is gay but rather his duplicity that he finds appalling. “We drew a bright line in our film. This is not a film about outing gay politicians. This is a film about reporting on the hypocrisy of closeted gay politicians who vote anti-gay.”

OUTRAGE achieves its purpose by backing its claims up with numerous sources, voting records and television news reports capturing some of the more infamous denials. There is a risk, of course, that the film may come across as sensational but if this gets people to see it, then Dick is happy. “I really don’t care why people come to the film. I just want them to come. But I want to go deeper into these complex issues. They really do affect millions of Americans.” The third part of the film, what Dick calls the “hate crime section”, exemplifies the worst of just how these millions of Americans are affected. While public figures denying their sexuality does insinuate that there is something still horribly wrong with it, it may not be directly responsible for inciting hate. That said, their denial and the voting stances that reinforce their lies, do nothing to protect the victims that may very well be them some day. “We are still in the midst of a very important gay rights struggle,” Kirby continues. “I think the most important human rights issue of our time is the gay rights struggle, in this country at least.” Self-loathing and the need for power should never be justification for an individual’s suffering or the progress of a nation.

Given the level of anger OUTRAGE incites in the viewer, it does so with a surprisingly level head. Dick’s passion and commitment to the cause are felt throughout this seamless film but so is his dedication to fairness. Only subjects that could be sufficiently substantiated were targeted and, as of the film’s premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, Dick had not heard from any of the names he named. The closet typifies duality, from the pain and the lies when the door is closed to the healing and hope that wait on the other side. With so much potential for rage throughout production, I asked Kirby how he managed to tow the line between his own rage on the subject and the bright line he vowed earlier not to cross. “Part of it came from the interview subjects; they were so articulate. They had thought about this issue for often times, decades. They wanted this story told because they realized the damage of the closet. We had the benefit of this meditation from forty of fifty very thoughtful, analytical people in this film. They set the tone for us to make this film. And once this issue is discussed, it will be much harder for the closet to exist.”

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Remembering the year 2001

Written and Directed by John Cameron Mitchell

I can still remember how I felt after seeing HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH for the first time. It was raining but the only reason I noticed that was because I was wet when I got home. I didn’t feel a thing while I walked outside; I was far too stunned. What had I just seen? I certainly couldn’t say that I had ever seen a rock opera about a transsexual singer/songwriter from East Berlin who had a botched sex change operation and who had immigrated to America only to have all of her music ripped off by a pretty little white boy. The only reassuring thing about this state was that I was fairly certain no one else could say they had seen that before either.

Well, plenty of people had seen the Off-Broadway hit but that is still a pretty paltry faction of people. Yes, HEDWIG got its humble beginnings in New York City. It was written by John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask and the title character was performed by Mitchell himself. After the show concluded its run, Mitchell had bigger plans and bigger wigs in mind for both Hedwig and himself. He had never directed a film before but must have felt comfortable enough with this material to take that risk. The risk most certainly paid off and to watch Hedwig, you would never know he had never directed before. Mitchell took a play that was grand in scope but limited in size and eradicated any notion that it had to be contained on a stage. His direction of Hedwig goes from town to town following the former lover who stole all his songs while simultaneously moving back and forth between time and space to tell Hedwig’s incredible story. His performance of Hedwig earned him a Golden Globe nomination and to watch it, you cannot imagine anyone else filling those gigantic platforms.

Sure, it’s all a little jarring at first but then at ten minutes in, a song starts. An animation takes over the screen and tells the story of how love began. The song is called, “The Origin of Love” and the drawings are nothing more than stick figures shaking almost elegantly on parchment but it doesn’t matter. They capture exactly what the complex song is saying so simply. The song details how all of us were once connected with another. There were boys attached to other boys, girls with girls and even girls attached to other boys, if you can believe that. Until one day, the gods decided that too much fun was being had and split all of these perfect unions into halves that would then have to scour the world to find their counterparts. Before this moment, there was no need for love, to search for it, to crave it because it simply didn’t exist. Hedwig is not a man or a woman and certainly not whole. Her search is bold, empowered and unfailing … and will likely never be over.

I think its fair to say that there are still too few people who have seen anything like HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH and I think its fair to say, too few people ever will. Thanks to John Cameron Mitchell though, a select group of fortunate people can now fell a little more open minded and hopefully a little more whole.

Black Sheep's 2001 Top 10
(in alphabetical order)

DONNIE DARKO, directed by Richard Kelly
GOSFORD PARK, Robert Altman
HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH, John Cameron Mitchell
L.I.E., Michael Cuesta
MEMENTO, Christopher Nolan
MOULIN ROUGE!, Baz Luhrmann
PRESQUE RIEN (Come Undone), Sebastien Lifshitz