Friday, July 31, 2009


Written and Directed by Judd Apatow
Starring Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Leslie Mann and Eric Bana

Ira: Do you like music?
Daisy: Did you just ask me if I like music? That’s like asking if I like food.

You’ve got your funny, you’ve got your people. And FUNNY PEOPLE, the third film by Judd Apatow, the reigning God of all things supposedly funny at the movies, only has room for one of these things. Which one, you ask. Let’s just that's an awfully big cast he's got there. Apatow has set himself apart in the last few years by making stylish comedies that speak directly to an audience that isn’t often engaged when it comes to comedy. It isn’t slapstick; it isn’t stupid. It is smart comedy with real people who have relatable problems but who don’t mind getting dirty with their humour. A comedian who has joked his way through life and is now facing his own mortality is certainly a real problem, just like a forty-year-old who has yet to lose his virginity or a one night stand that resulted in a pregnancy (Apatow’s two previous features, THE FORTY-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN and KNOCKED UP, respectively) are real problems, but FUNNY PEOPLE forgets to be exactly what got Apatow and all his regulars there in the first place – funny.

Apatow has certainly stepped up his game. In many ways, he didn’t have much of a choice. His name has been built up so high at this stage for all of his producing gigs that when one of his own movies drops, it has to lead by example. Casting Adam Sandler as the aforementioned dying comedian was the perfect start to a project brimming with potential. George is not so much unlike Sandler, at least when it comes to his career. Both started out in standup and both went on to make movie after crappy movie to appease the masses. More importantly, both are now in need of redemption for their regrets. (I can’t imagine Sandler is too proud of YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN; I could be wrong, but that’s doubtful.) The art imitating life doesn’t stop there either with Seth Rogen playing Ira, George’s assistant, as Rogen looks destined to follow in Sandler’s footsteps in Hollywood. While it is clear that both are pushing their dramatic acting abilities in this picture, well, it is also clear that they’re trying so it isn’t exactly a resounding success.

People are funny and Apatow knows this. FUNNY PEOPLE definitely refers to the vast cast of people who are all undeniably funny (Jason Schwartzman and Jonah Hill play their own brand of comedians as Ira’s roommates in a subplot that is essentially useless) but it could just as easily refer to the funny things we do as people. Whether that is Ira cussing out a girl he has yet to even have a date with for sleeping with one of his friends or George naively thinking that he can get back with the girl who got away (and who got married and got herself two kids, all played by Apatow’s real-life family, wife, Leslie Mann, and his two daughters, Maude and Iris Apatow) just because time was running out and sympathy was on his side. Hollywood works that way but life just doesn’t and fortunately, Apatow has earned himself enough clout in Hollywood to play against convention, as long as he isn’t making, “Sad People.” He might as well have made the sad one here though; at least then people would know what they were in for.

There is a scene early on in the film where George makes an impromptu appearance at a comedy club the same day he finds out he is dying. He doesn’t want to tell the audience about it; he just doesn’t know what to do with himself. Understandably, his jokes fall flatter than a flat line, and he pauses while on stage to listen to the sound of the cars on the nearby freeway, audible to everyone inside as no one is laughing. It is a touching moment but it also sums up what it is like to watch FUNNY PEOPLE. There is hilarity surrounding you but the delivery only inspires discomfort and a couple of chuckles. Your heart goes out but you wish your gut was hurting just a little too.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Black Sheep Previews: TRON LEGACY

In 1982, a computer hacker was sucked into the world of computers and subjected to participate in dangerous gladiator style games against his will. In 2010, the virtual world will be a simple fact of life and one single virtual world worker will try to take down the master control program. Yes, it does all sound a little too nerd herd for most but the original TRON made two times what it cost to make and went on to earn two Oscar nominations. I must admit that when I heard they were making a sequel / franchise continuation / remake / reimagining of it, I didn't see much of a point. Watching the trailer for it though, which debuted at this year's Comic-Con, it is clear to me that TRON LEGACY has similar goals to the first when it comes to visual style. Even if you are not a techno geek, there is no denying the smooth artistry of this trailer. There is also no denying that whatever you want to call it, this new TRON was indeed well warranted. TRON LEGACY is scheduled for release in 3D in 2010 and was directed by Joseph Kosinski, a first timer, not that you would ever know it.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Written by David Hayter and Alex Tse
Directed by Zack Snyder
Starring Billy Crudup, Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earle Haley, Matthew Goode and Malin Akerman

Early on in WATCHMEN, a store front window is defaced with spray paint. The words read, “Who watches the Watchmen?” The question, in the film, is asked by the general public as a serious concern that no one is policing the super forces that the government has hired to police the people. The answer here is rhetorical of course. The question, when asked out of context, is of course completely different but somehow, just as rhetorical, depending on how you see it. Last spring, WATCHMEN quickly went from one of the most anticipated films of 2009 to a supposed disappointment with very little explanation. The easiest explanation is that there had been a backlash to the hype; that fans of the iconic graphic novel had flocked to the film but they brought no one else with them. Now given the royal BD treatment, WATCHMEN can go direct to the basements where its true fans have been lurking and waiting all this time.

Clocking in at just over three hours, Zack Snyder’s director’s cut is a lot easier to stomach in the comfort of home. WATCHMEN is a bleak film, very dark for the superhero genre. It was possibly too intense to cross over in theatres but, on a rainy summer night, it will thrill lucky renters. This epic comic book picture spans decades and weights itself in a dense but intricate recreation of history, one which includes all of these supposed heroes and makes them an integral part of humanity’s progress. An immense amount of effort was made putting all of the tiny details together when making this movie and that same effort was used when putting this BD together. Aside from a number of interesting documentaries on varying elements of production, there is also the BD exclusive, what is being called the maximum movie mode. To watch the film in this mode is to watch a guided tour. The guide is Snyder himself and he interrupts the film intermittently, even going so far as to pausing it, so that he talk to us about what shooting was like and point the details we might miss. This is accompanied by graphic novel illustration comparisons, as well as storyboard comparisons, in a picture-in-picture option. You can even leave the film to watch an appropriate extra when you are prompted. It truly is unlike anything I’ve experienced on BD thus far.

I admit to not loving this film but I can also admit that I can see why many people would and those people should feel very happy with what is included in the BD release. The only thing that might upset these people is that there is an ultimate edition coming this December.



Friday, July 24, 2009

Black Sheep Previews: ALICE IN WONDERLAND

Well, I wrote this whole thing about Tim Burton's ALICE IN WONDERLAND yesterday and then Disney went around the net snatching up all the youtube videos of the teaser because it wasn't supposed to be out yet. Well, here we are, a mere 24 hours later and it's out now! So, here it is ... Feast your eyes because there's plenty to feast on. Here's to March of 2010!

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Written by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Arnando Iannucci and Tony Roche
Directed by Arnando Iannucci
Staring Tom Hollander, Chris Addison, Anna Chlumsky and James Gandolfini

Michael Rodgers: No, you needn’t worry about the Canadians; they’re always happy to be there. They’re always surprised to be invited.

Pretty much everyone knows what it means to be in the loop and naturally, pretty much everyone wants to be there as often as possible. When it comes to the political players of British comedian, Arnando Iannucci’s first feature film, IN THE LOOP, people are falling in and out of the loop several times an hour. To watch them all scramble makes for two hours of absolutely hilarious political satire that not only exposes the buffoonery of both the American and British governments but also exposes the harsh realities that come to existence because no one seems to know what they’re doing.

That isn’t quite fair. Everyone in IN THE LOOP seems to know what they’re doing, well mostly. They’re just doing everything for their own gain without any regard for the people who elected them to be there. This isn’t exactly a revelation but the language in which Iannucci lets us in his own personal loop is certainly pretty close to revelatory. Never before have I heard such inspired, outrageous dialogue. For instance, I have never heard anyone referred to as a lubricated horse cock before. If you can handle the dirt, then IN THE LOOP will pull so many laughs from your gut that you will feel as though you have been doing crunches the entire time you’ve been watching it.

IN THE LOOP tells its own version of how the United States and Britain convinced (or conned, depending on how you want to see it) the United Nations that they could go to war in Iraq despite their objections. Granted, they are still there and people are dying so perhaps we shouldn’t be laughing this hard but that’s the great thing about satire when it is done right. It is not only sharp, brilliant and hysterical but it is also a scathing condemnation on war profiteering and personal gain at any expense. Iannucci has plenty of experience with the topic, having produced the British show, “The Thick of It”, which IN THE LOOP is based on, and he uses his expertise to cut through the superfluous so that he can kick hard where it truly hurts.

It pays to be those in the know. When the potential of the Iraq war was being talked up all over the news and Washington, those of us sitting at home were frustrated because we were simply not in that particular loop. We were being fed certain stories that were being used as justifications and even though none of it seemed to be based in any fact, we had to accept it for what it was because there was no way for us disprove any of it. IN THE LOOP finally gets us in there, even though it is making it all up as it goes along. That’s the funniest part though; they were making it all up back then too.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber
Directed by Marc Webb
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel

Summer: I’ve never told anybody that before.
Tom: I guess I’m not just anybody.

I don’t think there could have been better timing for me to see (500) DAYS OF SUMMER than the precise moment I saw it. Well, last night would have been fine too but it was sold out so I had to settle for today instead. The reason I say this is because I just met someone and we just started something that neither one of us can define just yet, just like Tom and Summer (Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel) in the movie. For years, I was like Tom; I believed in the one and in love. Then, I experienced what I identified at the time as love. It went sour and so did my belief in possibilities when it came to matters of the heart and mixing those matters with other human beings. And so I became a lot more like Summer. She likes her life alone; she likes making her own destiny. After watching this modern day romance though, I think I can fairly say that I am somewhere now in between the two but I’m not sure if that’s any better.

I am also of two minds on this film. It is incredibly infectious. First time feature filmmaker, Marc Webb, infuses his Sundance hit with plenty of fresh visual style and an appropriate hipster soundtrack to match. As a result, the film beams with possibility while speaking directly to the all the skeptics out there. That certainly isn’t an easy dichotomy to reconcile but it teeters ever so closely toward an underlying bitter tone that every so often threatens the film’s seemingly natural exuberance. It could be argued that this is the nature of love as hate would be its opposite and therefore naturally waiting around for when love gets flipped upside down. Tom and Summer just had me feeling so much joy though that I wanted nothing to do with the nastier side of things and, as the 500 days of their relationship were told out of sequence, we know the whole time that things will eventually go awry. I suppose that my resistance would mean that I may be leaning more toward love triumphant.

An authoritative male narrator announces at one point that there are only two types of people out there, men and women. The statement is instantly jarring and limits the perspective of the film. Why must this love story be told from only Tom’s perspective? He is not your typical straight guy because he is sensitive and a romantic but does that make Summer’s supposedly unique perspective any less valid? After all, she is the girl who doesn’t believe in happily ever after. At times, (500) DAYS OF SUMMER is trying so hard to be different and hoping that we won’t notice that it makes it difficult for the characters to truly be real. They are mostly just their unique perspectives, and as Tom is the clear protagonist, Summer all too often ends up being vilified for what she is doing to him because she isn’t as fleshed out as she could be. Still, Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel take the somewhat thinly designed characters and make them not only believable but entirely endearing and lovable.

Summer told Tom from the very beginning; she was not looking for anything serious. Tom, like most people who think with their emotions, heard her but believed what he needed to in order to appease his fluttering heart. We too were warned; the tagline from the film reads quite clearly, “This is not a love story. This is a story about love.” I should have known better than to expect anything different than what I was told to expect from the very beginning. And even though (500) DAYS OF SUMMER seems to want to break down a relationship into just the good times or just the bad times, it had enough love to remind me that it is really about all of those times combined. Maybe I’ll see it again and this time I’ll bring my date.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Written by Oliver Stone
Directed by Alan Parker
Starring Brad Davis, Randy Quaid and John Hurt

Most often, when I venture into cinema’s past, I am inexplicably hesitant but then mostly surprised by what I’ve been missing all this time. MIDNIGHT EXPRESS won two Oscars (one of which went to screenwriter, Oliver Stone) and was heralded as director, Alan Parker’s greatest achievement. It was nominated for four other Oscars, including Best Picture and Director. Watching it now though, more than 30 years after it was made, I cannot see how MIDNIGHT EXPRESS managed to wow anyone at all. While there are moments that are both harrowing and moving, the whole is at times held back by poor acting and almost laughable melodrama. Some productions just don’t age as well as others.

MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, which refers to an escape from prison, is the true-life account of Billy Hayes, a young American who was caught smuggling hashish as he was leaving Istanbul. Stripped naked and placed in the center of a room while the arresting officers speak loudly all around him in a language he doesn’t understand and with no knowledge as to how long he will be there or what will happen to him is incredibly frightening a concept but yet Hayes (played very thinly by Brad Davis) shows no fear. It could be American naivetĂ© or ignorance of international law but as the film goes on and the scenarios Hayes finds himself in get more horrific, it becomes clear that Davis doesn’t have the depth to carry this role nor this film. The only good he brings is a pretty face and body that Parker sexualizes whenever he can.

Packaged in a collector’s book, MIDNIGHT EXPRESS boasts a feature commentary with Parker, “The Making of Midnight Express” (which is a throwaway promotional piece from the period) and some incredibly tedious interviews with different production staff. The whole thing will have you wanting to pull off your own midnight express from the prison it creates.



Monday, July 20, 2009

Remembering the year 2003

Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino

2003 was a big year for me. I shot my very first short film – also coincidentally my only short film – and I got involved in theatre production. It was also a big year for one of my favorite filmmakers, Quentin Tarantino. After his third film, JACKIE BROWN (1997), the follow-up to his contemporary masterpiece, PULP FICTION (1994), underwelmed both critics and audiences alike, Tarantino returned to theatres in 2003 with an epic so momentous that it needed to be split into two films. Clocking in originally at over four hours, Tarantino’s fourth film, as it is billed when the title appears on screen, KILL BILL, was both highly anticipated after a six-year hiatus on the part of the infamous filmmaker and highly criticized for being split into two parts (the second was released in the spring of 2004). Regular Tarantino distributor, Miramax, felt the film was just too long to be released as a whole; the industry meanwhile saw the decision as nothing more than a way to sell two tickets to one movie. Audiences did not care one way or the other; KILL BILL VOLUME ONE went on to earn over $180 million internationally and put Tarantino back on track to becoming the best of the contemporary film auteurs.

KILL BILL VOLUME ONE opens with a Klingon proverb … Revenge is a dish best served cold. Only Tarantino can open a film with a quote from a Star Trek character and transcend geekiness into authenticity. Besides, the quote fits as revenge gets served in the coldest of fashions in the two hours that follow. And with good reason, I might add. In a role that was written specifically for her (to the point that production was pushed back after she became pregnant), Uma Thurman plays The Bride and when we first meet her, she is lying on the floor, beaten and bloodied. A gun is pointed at her beautifully battered face and she tells the man standing above her, whose name, Bill, is all we know for now, that she is carrying his baby. Regardless, he shoots her anyway. Believing her and her entire wedding party to be dead, he leaves her to rot but The Bride is a character that will not be held down. Miraculously, she survives and devises a plan to obliterate the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (the group responsible for her wedding day massacre) one by one, including their leader, Bill (the recently deceased David Carradine). I’m a big supporter of turning the other cheek but this is one scenario where I can hardly blame her for exacting her revenge. In fact, I delighted in every second of it.

I was not the only one delighting in this blood-soaked revenge tale (nearly 100 people die in the film). Clearly, Tarantino was having so much fun too. Just as he did with PULP FICTION, he takes the story, based heavily on the 1973 Japanese film, LADY SNOWBLOOD, and breaks it up so that the timeline plays out non-sequentially. The through line is simply a death list that The Bride attacks one at a time. There are plenty of trademark Tarantino touches, from a bright, yellow truck called the Pussy Wagon to punchy dialogue like “My name is Buck and I like to fuck.” There is even a knowing nod to himself at one point when Thurman draws an imaginary square in the air, just like she did in PULP FICTION at the Jack Rabbit Slim restaurant on her date with John Travolta. Tarantino’s films are never fully out of the reach of his sometimes gigantic ego but he earns every indulgence in this film. Considering how playful his tone is, his care for the visual style is stupendous and the choreography of the all out brawl at the film’s climax is mesmerizing. All you can do is sit back and enjoy the bloodbath. And as much as Tarantino deserves all this praise for this picture, he could not have done it without Thurman. Her turn as The Bride is immensely demanding of her talents, both physically and emotionally, and she makes every moment on screen that much more urgent.

It seems that little is said about KILL BILL and what a strong picture it is for women working in the action genre. The rest of the cast is made up of Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox and Daryl Hannah and all of these ladies are not to be messed with. There is no denying their strength or the skills and Tarantino has far too much respect for both his characters and his actresses to ever allow them to be taken advantage of or exploited as girls gone wild. They are simply women who kick some serious ass paving the way for KILL BILL VOLUME ONE and Mr. Tarantino himself to do the same.

2003 Top 10
(in alphabetical order)

CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS, Andrew Jarecki (Director)
CITY OF GOD, Fernando Meirelles
ELEPHANT, Gus Van Sant
FINDING NEMO, Andrew Stanton
IN AMERICA, Jim Sheridan
KILL BILL VOLUME ONE, Quentin Tarantino
MONSTER, Patty Jenkins

Sunday, July 19, 2009

BLACK SHEEP @ The Box Office: HARRY POTTER Works his Magic!

This time last year, THE DARK KNIGHT shattered the notion of what it meant to open a movie with a three-day haul of $158.4 million. I can still remember how very ticked off I was that I had to settle for MAMMA MIA! on opening night because all THE DARK KNIGHT IMAX screenings were sold out. No one expected HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE to come anywhere near that but Mr. Potter and friends still managed to get a trick or two in anyway.

It certainly seemed like this sixth Harry Potter installment had the potential to reach new heights when it debuted to $22.2 million in advance midnight screenings the day before its release. This gross easily surpassed THE DARK KNIGHT’s $18.5 million record midnight haul from last year. The next day, it came very close to beating the record for best Wednesday opening that was set just a few weeks back when TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN opened to $62 million. Ultimately, opening to the third largest theatre count in history helped HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE take in a weekend haul of $79.5 million for a five-day total of just under $160 million. It is the largest Harry Potter opening to date and fitting, if you, like I, thought it was the best Harry Potter film to date as well.

The news was not so good for BRUNO this weekend. The film fell off a drastic 73% in its second weekend, ensuring that it will come nowhere near the success of star, Sasha Baron Cohen’s last hit, BORAT. I speculated last week that BRUNO didn’t do as well because of its gay content and as I’ve done no research on the subject, I have no basis for this. The film is certainly not being as praised by critics or fans this time out but most people I know who’ve seen it, still thought it was funny. And so I am still left wondering whether the world just didn’t want to watch such a flamboyantly gay character for that long. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.

And, while THE HURT LOCKER (pictured further up because I don't want to see any more BRUNO pics) continued to outdraw the majority of the Top 10 in terms of per screen averages, with $8K at 94 screens, a 19% increase over last week, the big art house success story of the week belonged to lovers. 500 DAYS OF SUMMER, a big favorite at this year’s Sundance film festival, opened in 12th place with a per screen average that easily exceeded every title in the Top 10, $31K on just 27 screens. The film expands next Friday and the Black Sheep review is coming this week.

NEXT WEEK: You know its going to be a great weekend when the good money is on the movie with the talking hamsters. Disney’s G-FORCE opens on 3200 screens. Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler battle it out for all the sexes in THE UGLY TRUTH (2700 screens). And yet another movie about a demonic child, THE ORPHAN, opens on 2600 screens. In this one though, we’ll never believe what made the little girl do it. That's what the trailer says anyway.


Friday, July 17, 2009


Written by Steve Kloves
Directed David Yates
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Michael Gambon, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and Jim Broadbent

Waitress: Who is this Harry Potter?
Harry Potter: No one. He’s a bit of a tosser really.

I feel like every time I sit to write about a new Harry Potter movie, I must first state that I have not read the books. If you were standing in front of me, you would make a face and probably insist that I must read them. I’m sure they’re very good books. How could they not be given the magnitude of the followers out there? I’m just not interested in committing to hundreds of pages about a boy wizard and his simultaneous struggle with puberty and the fact that he is the chosen one. Now, give me a two and a half hour film and I will certainly give this Harry fella a go. Even at that, I haven’t always enjoyed my time at Hogwart’s. I found the second film (… AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS) facile and juvenile; I found the fourth film (… AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE) to be messy and undercooked. Still, sitting with Harry and Ron and Hermione at that first big banquet in the dining hall with all those floating candles in this sixth year made me very happy that school was back in session.

Director, David Yates took over directing duties with the last installment (… AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX) and after that was so well received (Black Sheep Reviews gave the film a B grade) he was invited back to direct the next three installments. After seeing HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE, it is clear that the right decision was made. Last time out, he was new to the scene. He brought all of Potter’s angst out of Potter mainstay, Daniel Radcliffe and he managed to make a tight Potter film that could be loved by fans and non-fans alike. This time, now that he has spent a little more time roaming Hogwart’s corridors, you can tell that Yates has found his footing and he has emerged as the best director in the Harry Potter series. Obviously, the most important part of the Potter series is the story but Yates has established his own force by taking that story and filling in around all of the edges. Thanks to Yates, and a delightful turn by Jim Broadbent, the Potter series has never looked better nor has it ever been this magical.

Not that the Harry Potter series in general is a big mental challenge but, again having not read the books dozens of times over, it is occasionally difficult for me to remember every detail to this complex progression. After two years absence from cinemas, a “Last time on Harry Potter” opener would have really helped. Once I got the gist of where we were at though, I didn’t have to do any thinking. The nuances he brought out of Radcliffe last time out were noticeably absent this time around. The Potter kids are pretty grown up now but their growth, which has been at the forefront of the story in the last couple of films, was stunted here. It was a bit more of the same as they attempt coupling (and snogging, lots and lots of snogging). While it may not have left me with very much to absorb about their nearly adult personalities, it simply gave the exhilaration of their trials that much more space to explode on screen. Then again, maybe we just know these kids so well at this point that new facets of their personalities are not what truly matters.

I just realized that I’ve said nothing of the plot of HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE. Either you already know it or you really don’t need to. Going in blind is always that much more fun, especially when magic is promised to ensue. Suffice it to say, Harry finds a book of spells that once belonged to the Half-Blood Prince and the kids try to find out who that is while the wrath of He Who Shall Not Be Named (but is named all the time now as if it never mattered at all) continues to close in on young Potter. That is the beauty of the film though. Yates cast such an exciting spell on this film that nothing else matters except the fun you will have watching it and the fun that was obviously had making it.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Black Sheep Previews: TIFF 2009

First of all, I am loving the new TIFF logo. The Toronto based film festival is rebranding itself and taking on its acronym as its actual name and intends to encapsulate the commitment to film that TIFF promotes all year round and not just during the festival. With the construction of the Bell Lightbox theatre, specially designed for the festival itself, underway, TIFF is looking to the future like never before. And speaking of the TIFF future, they have announced a handful of galas and special presentations for this year's programme and they have got this sheep very excited for what's in store. Now, all they have to do is let me in! Here is a peak of what's in store ...

TIFF has decided to open their festival with the world premiere of a controversial film, CREATION, from director, Jon Amiel. Paul Bettany stars as Charles Darwin and Jennifer Connelly co-stars as his devoted but deeply religious wife. Creationism is not a popular topic and therefore this is certain to draw attention. Meanwhile, TIFF is drawing a different kind of controversy for their decision. The opening film is ordinarily a Canadian production and I can see no Canadian tie to this film, especially if you compare it to last year's opener, Paul Gross's PASSCHENDAELE. Still, I don't mind one way or the other; I just want to see what the fuss is about.

Three of the announced galas are highly anticipated works, one of which is making its world premiere at TIFF. Steven Soderbergh's THE INFORMANT! stars Matt Damon as the aforementioned informant himself. After exploring the high class sex trade in his last film, THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE, Soderbergh takes on the agricultural monopolies in this awards season hopeful. Jane Campion, (the Academy Award winning writer and nominated director of THE PIANO) brings her Cannes success, BRIGHT STAR, to North America. The film stars Ben Wishaw (I'M NOT THERE) as 19th century poet, John Keats, and explores his relationship with girlfriend, Fanny Brawn (Abbie Cornish) that was cut short by his early death at 25. And, after receiving the Audience Award, Grand Jury Prize and Special Jury Prize at Sundance earlier this year, the Oprah Winfrey/Tyler Perry backed PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL PUSH BY SAPPHIRE makes its way from Cannes to TIFF for its Canadian debut. A gala presentation at TIFF certainly puts this downer of a picture on track as a potentially serious contender at this year's Oscars.

And here's an intriguing selection ... French Nouvel Vague director, Alain Resnais, most famous for the classics, HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR (1959) and THE LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD (1961), brings us his latest, LES HERBES FOLLES (WILD GRASS), as part of TIFF's Masters series. The film stars Mathieu Almaric (THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY) and centers around a wallet that is lost and then found. The one who lost it and the one who found it are now intrinsically linked.

More TIFF titles are to be announced shortly. For more information, be sure to check out the TIFF wesbite.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Written by Mark Boal
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Starring Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty

Colonel Reed: What’s the best way to go about disarming one of these things?
Staff Sergeant William James: The way you don’t die.

It is no secret that Iraq war movies are a hard sell to both audiences and critics these days. Audiences seem to want nothing to do with watching the hardships of their fellow countrymen on screen and critics can’t seem to agree on any one picture that gets it right … until now, that is. Kathryn Bigelow’s THE HURT LOCKER still has to prove itself at the box office but has almost universally wowed the critics, including this one. It has done so by stripping itself of any pretense or need to speak out against the war. No, Bigelow’s take is not one of condemnation but one that is simply humane and frank about reality. THE HURT LOCKER may just usher in a new breed of post-war films, despite the war not actually being finished. Perhaps this is why the film works – because it isn’t about the war itself but rather the effort to clean up the mess that was made.

The title, THE HURT LOCKER, refers to a place of pain that you cannot get out of. In this case, the hurt locker is Baghdad but there is hope. For Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Remmer) and his crewmen, JT Sandborn and Owen Eldridge (Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty), their particular hurt locker has an expiry date on it when we meet them. These three men, all admirable and all seemingly stable, form a team called the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD). This is a fancy way of saying bomb squad and together, they have about three weeks or so left in their tour. Bigelow shot over 200 hours of footage, using sometimes four cameras at a time when shooting, to capture an authentic documentary style. The cutting is sometimes so quick that we go from patrolling the perimeter to guarding the rooftops to being right at the side of the bomb. Subsequently, we are the fourth members of this EOD and this becomes our hurt locker as well.

Bigelow (perhaps most famous for directing Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves in POINT BREAK, way back when the first gulf war was coming to a close) brings a feminine sensibility to THE HURT LOCKER that removes the obnoxious male ego we are so accustomed to in war films. Sure, team leader, James does things his way and that gets him into trouble from time to time but he doesn’t do it to get in anyone’s face and he doesn’t do it to prove he is a big man. He does it, from what I gathered because Bigelow is subtle enough to let us do the thinking ourselves, because he is good at it. For James, this is not a hurt locker; this is home, where he knows that who he is and what he is good at is being put to its best use. Remmer (most recently seen in TV’s now cancelled “The Unusuals”) is a great leader for both the team and the film; his presence and dedication command respect from them and admiration from us.

Of course, dismantling bombs is no Iraqi picnic. The true genius of THE HURT LOCKER stems from Bigelow’s handling of Mark Boal’s delicate script. (Boal spent time with an EOD squad to write the script.) Like the men on screen, Bigelow has no interest in the superfluous. She has a job to do and if she doesn’t do it right, it will blow up in her face and take down anyone in the immediate radius. Despite this, she gets right up in the face of the bomb without fear at all times and somehow manages to make an explosive film about making sure explosions don’t happen.