Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Written by Zoe Kazan
Directed Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
Starring Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan and Chris Messina

Calvin Weir-Fields: One may read this and think it sounds like magic but love is magic. And so is writing.

Everyone has one. Every romantic out there has taken the time to close his or her eyes and picture the girl or boy of their dreams. Some are a little more specific about the details than others but lately, even those who think they know what they’re looking for are having something of a hard time finding that person. The way things are going, we’re going to have to figure out a way to create these perfect people with the sheer power of our imagination if we’re going to find that someone. In RUBY SPARKS, the second film from the celebrated directing team of LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, our hero, Calvin Weir-Fields, ends up doing just that.

Calvin (Paul Dano) is a writer and a good one at that. Before he even graduated high school, his genius, a word he has great discomfort with, produced what some are calling one of the most accomplished American novels of our time. He has produced nothing of the same significance in the ten years since then though. There is pressure all around him, from his agent, his fans and his family but no one places more pressure on him than Calvin himself. He lives alone and hasn’t been in a relationship of any kind for some time and it seems at the onset that this man has peaked before even hitting 30. Then a girl comes to him in his dreams (the adorable Zoe Kazan, who also quite impressively wrote the film’s screenplay). She is pretty and passionate but perhaps more importantly, he feels alive around her. She becomes his muse and for the first time in as long as he can remember, he is writing. He can barely even keep up with the words as they come out of him and all he wants to do all day is be with her, even if that can only be on the page and in his imagination. Then one day, she calls for him to come to breakfast from the kitchen. As I’m sure you can imagine, he is a little thrown by this.

On the surface, RUBY SPARKS may sound a little far fetched but if you give in to its more fantastical elements, you will inevitably be taken in by its abundant charm. Dayton and Faris know that they have a hurdle to get over but they also know that once they do, and they most certainly do, the audience will be treated to one of the most unexpectedly realistic looks at the modern relationship and all its pratfalls. The pitch perfect performances by Dano and Kazan make this entire journey a total joy, while still allowing the more problematic elements of their relationship (like her not being real for example) to surface when they can no longer avoid them. In doing so, RUBY SPARKS finds a near perfect balance in tone that not only delights but inspires at the same time. When it comes down to it, the person of our dreams will never truly be what we imagine. The trick then becomes allowing them to be real, to be themselves, and letting go of trying to make them into what you think you want. It may just be the only way to get what you actually need.

Sunday, July 29, 2012


An interview with Adam Brody and Analeigh Tipton

If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to see a Whit Stillman film, be it his 1990 debut, METROPOLITAN, or his biggest success, 1998’s THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO, then you know that his musings on how the other half live are as challenging as they are whimsical and sharply satirical while still forgiving. You don’t have to have heard of him to work with him though.

“I was on the set of CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE. and people were asking me what I was going to do next,” says Analeigh Tipton, one of the title characters from Stillman’s latest, DAMSELS IN DISTRESS. “I was thinking about this Whit Stillman thing and Julianne Moore just spun around in her chair and was like, ‘You have to do this; It’s Whit Stillman!’”

Do it, she did. Tipton plays Lily, the new girl on campus who is taken in by a trio of sorority girls. It isn’t long before she is tangled up in boy trouble and suicide prevention tap classes. One boy who causes her distress is the handsome guy next door, Charlie, played by Adam Brody.

“I had to look up some words and philosophies and history to know what I was talking about sometimes,” Brody tells me of his first impressions of Stillman’s script. “I find that his pattern is so rhythmic, so musical, that there’s a reason that no one gives a bad performance in a Whit Stillman film. Everyone’s good in them.”

Brody may not be modest but he isn’t actually wrong either. The performances are not all perfect but they all work in the context of the Stillman universe. Tipton confirms, “You have to challenge yourself to find the truth in everything you say when its such a unique language.”

The truth in DAMSELS IN DISTRESS is about depression and how you shouldn’t let it get you down, if that makes any sense. Brody explains it better. “Part of the problem when you’re depressed is that everything is the end of the world. If you can have fun with it, de-dramatize it, and laugh at it a little bit, perhaps that is actually a decent therapy.”

And the same can be said about a good Stillman movie, if case you’ve never been fortunate enough to see one.

Written and Directed by Whit Stillman
Starring Greta Gerwig, Adam Brody and Analeigh Tipton

A group of sorority girls decide to take on depression and suicide prevention, whilst grooming the fraternity riffraff into respectable young men, in Whit Stillman’s DAMSELS IN DISTRESS, his first film since 1998’s THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO. It isn’t long before the boys resort to their baser needs though, causing the ladies to need their own therapy. The ensemble cast, led by Greta Gerwig and Adam Brody, are all delightful. True to Stillman’s form, everyone speaks with great enunciation and elaborate vocabulary, yet the tone remains light and whimsical. DAMSELS IN DISTRESS is a dry, witty satire that pokes fun at the foolishness behind intellectualizing emotions, and while it may be too high brow for some, it will surely be a guilty pleasure for others.

Friday, July 27, 2012


Written by Adolph Green and Betty Comden
Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly
Starring Gene Kelly, Donald O"Connor and Debbie Reynolds

SINGIN' IN THE RAIN is not only one of my favourite movie musicals of all time but I actually count it amongst my favourite films, period. This year, the film celebrates its 60th anniversary by making its first appearance on Blu-ray and with a brilliant remaster at that. Every time I see this film, I am reminded of just how groundbreaking it truly was, from its dazzling Gene Kelly choreography to its brilliantly cheeky take on Hollywood. It also features some of the most tender and romantic moments in any movie I‘ve seen, all of it elevated with great ease by the beautiful music of Arthur Freed. There is a reason that the American Film Institute considers this film to be the best movie musical ever made.

Most people don’t know this but SINGIN' IN THE RAIN is actually a jukebox musical. All but one song sung in the film was written about 30 years before the film was even made. The idea was that Warner Bros. had access to all the music already so why would they pay someone to write a new musical. But even with Freed classics like “Good Morning” or the title track itself to set the mood, and mind blowing Kelly choreography to fill the screen, the film would never have endured if it weren’t for the Adolph Green and Betty Comden screenplay. Kelly plays a silent film actor who struggles to find his place in the “talkies” and falls in love with a young ingenue (a 19-year-old Debbie Reynolds in her first starring role) in the process. Along the way, co-director, Stanley Donen, turns the mirror on the often duplicitous nature of the studio system.

Despite its classic status, SINGIN' IN THE RAIN is perhaps better described as timeless. The anniversary edition is available now but aside from the picture quality, arguably of course the most important part, this edition contains no new bonus material. It is however also available in a special edition package that contains a stunning colorful book about the production as well an umbrella so we can too can do a little singing next time we’re caught in the rain.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Directed by David Gelb

Everything you need to know about Jiro Ono, the subject of the new documentary, JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI, is right there in the title. The man literally dreams of new ways to perfect one of the world’s greatest delicacies. He has dedicated nearly his entire life to the art and craft of sushi making and I don’t say this lightly. After being cast out of his home at the age of 10, in some form of parental lesson meant to teach him to fend for himself, Ono began his career as a sushi apprentice. It has been 75 years since then and not only has the student become the master, but Ono is actually considered by many to be the world’s greatest sushi chef alive today.

Yes, it is an incredible story but does it really make for a compelling film as well? I’m happy to say the answer there is also a resounding yes. Ono’s journey is as long and fascinating as his personality is colorful. First time feature filmmaker, David Gelb, has crafted a telling piece that brings us deep into Ono’s kitchen and even deeper into his philosophies on life, most of which are expressed in his actual sushi. His 3-star Michelin restaurant, can be found in the basement of a Tokyo office building but it can take up to a year to get a reservation at his tiny table. Dining with Ono is said to be like experiencing a great and balanced symphony, itself broken into three sections. And somehow, without even getting the privilege of a single bite of Ono’s sushi, we can understand what that experience might be like thanks to the intimacy of the film.

Ono has two sons, both of which never went to college but rather followed in their father’s footsteps at his insistence. The youngest now has a restaurant of his own. The eldest meanwhile, is still working under his father, waiting for the day when his father will step down, if that day ever even comes. JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI is a beautiful and tender lesson in tradition and dedication that will have you pondering a quick trip to Japan to feast upon sushi made by the master. If that isn’t possible though, be sure to have some of your own near by. If you’re a sushi lover, you couldn’t possibly watch this film without a plate within reach.

JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI is now available to rent or own on DVD. Review copy provided by eOne Entertainment.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


This year, the Toronto International Film Festival will be a little different for me. As it turns out, I was not accredited to cover the film festival in any official capacity. Last year, I had two print media outlets backing my visit to the festival, but as they both shut down production earlier this year, I'm now out there all on my own.

What does this mean for Black Sheep's TIFF 2012 coverage? It simply means a lot less interviews and a lot more reviews. This will be the first year that I attend the festival as a serious filmgoer. In the years leading up to my two accredited years, I didn't even live in Toronto. I would come into the city and see whatever I could in the few days I could afford to be here. That usually amounted to five or six films at the most.

This year, I intend to see at least 20 films and I'm hoping more for something like 30. And without the insane chaos that goes hand in hand with setting up interviews at TIFF, I should have the time in front of me to just enjoy the films and write about them afterward. And while I will miss that insanity, because quite frankly I thrive in it, I am very much looking forward to enjoying TIFF the same way everyone else does this year.

This morning, TIFF announced their first batch of films selections, the gala and special presentation selections, including the opening night film, LOOPER, a science fiction mobster film, that reunites star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt with BRICK director, Rian Johnson (pictured below).

I definitely hope to catch this film and I say hope because I now fall into the same waiting game as every other ticket buyer. I don't know what films will still be available or whether or not I can fit them into my schedule. In that spirit, I present to you, of the films that have already been announced, the following list of 5 films I am most hoping to score tickets to at TIFF 2012 ...

Directed by Ben Affleck
Affleck is no stranger to TIFF, having shown his last film, THE TOWN here in 2010. His latest, a true story of six Americans trapped in Tehran in 1979 and the great lengths they went to to get out, looks to be one of the year's best. Starring Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin and John Goodman.

Directed by Joe Wright
Tolstoy is not exactly my thing by Wright definitely is. Having already proved that he and star, Keira Knightley, work very well together on two previous productions (PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and ATONEMENT), Wright hopes to make it three for three with this ambitious project.

Directed by Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski
I must admit that I do not know very much about this film but when the director of RUN, LOLA, RUN works with the directors of THE MATRIX, you have to take notice. From what I understand, it promises to be an esoteric exploration of how we are all connected. Sounds good to me!

Directed by David O. Russell
Russell's follow up to the Oscar winning, THE FIGHTER, looks to be a solid contemporary drama about the trickiness of achieving intimacy in a damaged world. Bradley Cooper stars opposite Jennifer Lawrence in a role that looks to step up his serious acting game.

Directed by Terrence Malick
Malick's latest is described as an exploration of love in its many forms. That alone is reason enough to see this film. That said, it will be impossible to pass up the opportunity to see how the infamously reclusive director follows up his visual masterpiece, THE TREE OF LIFE. Starring Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams and Javier Bardem.

And now, we wait. There are 44 days until TIFF officially launches on September 6. What are you most excited to see?

Here is the full list of announced films:


LOOPER (Rian Johnson) (Opening Film)
CLOUD ATLAS (The Wachowskis & Tom Tykwer)
ARGO (Ben Affleck)
LOVE, MARILYN (Liz Garbus)
THANKS FOR SHARING (Stuart Blumberg)
END OF WATCH (David Ayer)
IMOGENE (Robert Puccini and Shari Springer Berman)
FRANCES HA (Noah Baumbach)
THE TIME BEING (Nenad Cicin-Sain)
WRITERS (Josh Boone)
AT ANY PRICE (Ramin Bahrani)
BYZANTIUM (Neil Jordan)
GINGER AND ROSA (Sally Potter)
A LIAR'S AUTOBIOGRAPHY (Ben Timlett, Bill JOnes, Jeff Simpson)
HANNAH ARENDT (Margarthe bon Trotta)
MR. PIP (Andrew Adamson)
CAPITAL (Costa Gavras)
THE ATTACK (Ziad Doueriri)
ZAYTOUN (Eran Riklis)
THE DEEP (Baltasar Kormakur)
DREAMS FOR SALE (Nishikawa Miwa)


TO THE WONDER (Terrence Malick)
JAYNE MANSFIELD'S CAR (Billy Bob Thornton)
A ROYAL AFFAIR (Nikolai Arcel)
THERMAE ROMAE (Hideki Takeuchi)
DORMANT BEAUTY (Marco Belloccchio)
REALITY (Matteo Garrone)
THE HUNT (Thomas Vintenberg)
THE ICEMAN (Ariel Vromen)
LORE (Cate Shortland)
NO (Pablo Larrain)
OUTRAGE BEYOND (Takeshi Kitano)
RUST AND BONE (Jacques Audiard)
TAI CHI O (Stephen Fung)



For more information, visit the TIFF website.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


Written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Caine

Bruce Wayne: You’re afraid that if I go back out there, I’ll fail.
Alfred: No, I’m afraid you want to.

It is a rare occurrence in Hollywood for any film franchise to be as consistently incredible throughout its run as Christopher Nolan’s Batman series has been. With THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, Nolan brings his ambitious take on the Batman ideology to an epic and fitting close. He brings his slow burning exploration of human fear to the brink of catastrophe and drags Gotham City and all its good people right along with it. The tension he has been building systematically since BATMAN BEGINS, that he brought to entirely unexpected heights in THE DARK KNIGHT, could only conclude in one way and that is with an all-out war. The question is, will anyone come out of this war a winner? Or even alive for that matter?

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES picks up eight years after the last installment left off, when Batman took the fall for Harvey Dent, so that Gotham could go on believing in the hero it needed at the time to move forward. Batman is retired and the man behind the mask, billionaire extraordinaire, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a recluse from society. Wayne has always been a conflicted character but the necessary and inevitable journey he must make here to find the bat within and come out of retirement, makes for a bit of a stunted start to the film. We know he will get there so watching him walk away from his waking coma slows us down some, but once he gets there, that’s when things get interesting. Very interesting.

Batman must take on Bane (Tom Hardy) and he has no idea what kind of brute force he’s up against. His motivation to dust off the cape and mask come into question, primarily from his trusted aid, Alfred (Michael Caine, who impresses yet again by finding all new layers to this well known character). Is he doing this because Gotham truly needs him? Or is he doing this because he needs Batman to live? Worse yet, is he doing this because he needs Batman in order to justify killing himself? Regardless, he gets more than he ever expected with Bane, a man with a past that is even more complex than his own. To complicate matters even further, Batman must also contend with feisty cat burglar, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway). He can never quite tell whose side she’s on and thanks to Hathaway’s playful performance, neither can we.

It isn’t just Batman who must rise to the occasion in this film. Nearly every character we meet must overcome their own limitations and rise to honour their past, their legacy or themselves. Like THE DARK KNIGHT before it, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES builds on ideas of fear, from struggling with it internally to inspiring it in others externally. Unlike last time though, this conflict is more visually destructive than it is psychologically disturbing. As a result, some of the motivation behind the terror felt like more of the same than another truly original installment. That said, the war itself is worth every second. So while THE DARK KNIGHT RISES may not have risen as high as I would have liked it to, it does soar through the sky like only Nolan’s great winged bat can.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Best of Black Sheep: THE DARK KNIGHT

Written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine and Maggie Gyllenhaal

Alfred Pennyworth: Some men simply want to watch the world burn.

There can only be one Batman and as I sat amongst a full crowd that was silent in awed anticipation at the crack of the film, it is clear that director, Christopher Nolan’s Batman is that one.  In BATMAN BEGINS, Nolan (whom at the time he attempted to revive the franchise had only directed a handful of indie projects) took an icon and made him human.  Batman, and of course his real life persona, Bruce Wayne, was damaged.  He had fears; he had frustrations; he had to find himself.  What he found, with a little push from Nolan, was a flawed figure, but also a man whose heroism was defined by his humility and relentless pursuit of justice for those incapable of demanding it for themselves.  With the arrival of THE DARK KNIGHT, Nolan has finished with his foundation, and taken to the vertigo-inducing heights on the tallest of Gotham’s buildings to analyze the city and all its inhabitants.  Gliding both gracefully and dauntingly through all of it is the dark knight himself (reprised by third time Nolan collaborator, Christian Bale).  What he sees from his unique view, which becomes our privileged spectacle, is a world of delineating lines and order, that is about to be torn apart by chaos and chance.

Gotham City must be pretty far down the list of safest places to live in America.  Not only does there seem to be nightly violence at the hands of common street thugs, but all the crazies seem to end up setting up shop there too.  Enter the Joker (Heath Ledger).  We know nothing of what made him the homicidal maniac he is, nor does he have any regard for human life.  In fact, he has nothing but disdain for it.  Humanity’s rules may disgust him but they also make it possible for him to predict how people will behave, allowing him the chance to throw them off and laugh at their expense. The Joker is frightening enough in concept but Ledger’s performance is down right terrifying.  As he constantly licks his lips with self-assured cynicism, he cuts to the chase in every scenario.  He has no time for any games, other than the ones he orchestrates himself, and commands control everywhere he goes.  His idea of playing always involves the ultimate consequences and the highest of stakes.  In order to win out, you must reject what you know and become everything you denounce.  Only winners will know the rewards of living both sides of the coin and the Joker is counting on fear to prevail so that he can finally have someone to play with.

Along with his co-screenwriter, brother, Jonathan, Nolan has crafted a dark, twisted dissection of duality and morality that is often shocking, unexpected and intricately detailed.  In every superhero tale, everyone always wants to know the man behind the mask.  The mask itself, the creation of another persona other than the one that sits safely behind it, initiates the duality that permeates the notion of the superhero figure. Batman is the dark knight.  He only comes out at night and no one would suspect the man he is by day might be one and the same.  The Joker’s chaos theory ruptures Batman’s controlled existence and forces him to think in a darker fashion than he has ever had to before.  Thinking that darkly though can leave you stranded in that space and this is what the Joker is counting on.  What makes THE DARK KNIGHT so rich is that almost every character has conflict and questions their actions and motivations.  No answer is the clear right one and deceit seems to play a role in even the most well-intentioned decisions.  The greatest irony is that the darkest character actually has the purest of souls while the would be clown seems to have no soul at all.  This is perhaps what makes them such worthy adversaries and why they both almost seem to enjoy the challenge.

When THE DARK KNIGHT feels like it might be ending, the anxiety mounts because you won’t want it to end.  It has an enormous scope but is somehow still subtle.  It is incredibly complex but yet still simple.  The film itself is steeped in just as much duality as its hero. Nolan never loses control of his duty – to create a Batman film that pleases both the masses and the fans, that encompasses the grandness of a blockbuster with the darkness of the independent spirit, and wows without resorting to cheap tricks.  Once again, Nolan has grounded the sensational on a very firm footing by never allowing Batman to be anything other than a man.  We can then stand on the same level ground as the giant bat and feel a satisfaction that is both real and incredible.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Written by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes and Cillian Murphy

Thomas Wayne: Why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.

From the terrifying opening shot of countless screeching bats flying across a burning red sky, it is unmistakably clear that Christopher Nolan’s BATMAN BEGINS will be nothing at all like the film incarnations that came before it. I describe it as terrifying because, like the man behind the mask of the titular character, I too am not a great fan of bats. I do however, enjoy movies about men who like to dress up in giant bat costumes quite a bit, and when I first saw Nolan’s reboot of a series that had been run deep into the ground by the previous hack of a helmer, I knew that this Batman would not only be invigorated for a new generation of fans but that it would likely go on to become the definitive incarnation of this iconic hero.

True to its title, Nolan, along with co-screenwriter, David S. Goyer (BLADE), provide the audience with a truly authentic and well-rounded origin story. What is perhaps most impressive about their take is how original it feels considering its been told so many times before. We are introduced to Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) when he is still just a child. While playing, he falls into a cave and is attacked by a colony of bats. While this scene doesn’t pretend to show that this is where Batman was born, it does, at the very least, show us where his fascination with the winged creature came from. Cut from his first bat encounter to years later, as he takes his first steps toward becoming Batman, fighting, as Wayne in plain clothes, in a Bhutanese prison against a number of opponents, before embarking on an intensive ninja training that leads to his ability to appear invisible and his flare for the theatrical. These choices are so well rooted in believable reality that for the first time I can account for, Batman seems like someone who could actually exist.

The main theme of BATMAN BEGINS is fear. Wayne is afraid of bats; he is afraid that ultimately he is responsible for his parents’ death; perhaps most significantly though, his fear has paralyzed him from participating in life since he was that small child. He learns, under the tutelage of Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson), not only how to face his fears but to have those same fears fuel his fury forward onto his enemies. Having found himself and a way to follow in his father’s footsteps by helping the good people of Gotham City (which is breathtaking in its glory days), Wayne grows up before our very eyes and Bale does a marvelous job at conveying this to his audience. We know he has a great spirit hidden far behind the self-imposed walls surrounding him; his supporters, and our superb supporting cast, from trusted butler and guardian, Alfred (Michael Caine) to childhood sweetheart and current Gotham City district attorney, Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes), know what he can truly be if he lets it happen; the only person who still doesn’t see it is Wayne himself.

Just like you and I, Batman too has bats in his cave that plague him. Instead of cleaning them out though, he learns how to harness their power for the good of the many. With BATMAN BEGINS, Nolan redefines what it means to make a comic book movie. Unlike some other superheroes, Batman is just man. He just happens to have extensive training, enough money to equip himself with plenty of gadgets to take down his detractors, and a chip on his shoulder large enough to keep him doing it for the rest of his life. Nolan knows that this chip is what bonds Batman to the masses though. His mission to do right by the people of Gotham makes him a hero, but his somewhat selfish motivation to right the wrong that was done to his parents right before his eyes, taints his supposedly altruistic nature and makes him human. Batman has always been conflicted but never before has it been communicated on film in such a relatable way. And, never before, has it been so damn good.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


Written by Andrew Steele
Directed by Matt Piedmont
Starring Will Ferrell, Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna and Genesis Rodriguez

Opening announcement: If it sounds Spanish, man, that's what it is; it's a Spanish movie.

From the moment the camera freezes on Will Ferrell staring intensely into the audience, surrounded by painted backdrops and fake set pieces, one knows exactly what kind of comedy they’re in store for. Ferrell, who learned Spanish, or at least the Spanish used in the script, in just one month, plays Armando Alvarez, a coward who must overcome his fears in order to bring down the Mexican drug trade, restore dignity to his family and get the girl in this cheeky telenovela send up. Under the direction of frequent “Funny or Die” collaborator, Matt Piedmont, and co-starring Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, CASA DE MI PADRE is just plain ridiculous and if that suits your mood, it is also muy comica.

CASA DE MI PADRE is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Alliance Films on July 17, 2012.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


Written by Laura Lau
Directed by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau
Starring Elizabeth Olsen

Imagine being trapped in a secluded lake house with an intruder and little way to defend yourself. There is no electricity, no phone service and you have no idea where the key to the front door is. Imagine how tense every single minute of that experience would be and you have SILENT HOUSE, a thriller from Chris Kentis (OPEN WATER) and Laura Lau (directorial debut), and remake of the 2010 Uraguayan film of the same name. Well, theoretically you would have the premise of this movie because it is shot to make it look like one continuous shot from start to finish, much like Alfred Hitchcock's ROPE. The effect is supposed to make you feel like you’re there, trapped in that house too. Sadly, the end result is a bit more tedious than terrifying.

Most of the action centers around Sarah, played by the wide-eyed wonder, Elizabeth Olsen (MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE). Sarah is spending some time up at the family lake house, prepping it to be sold, with the help of her father and uncle (Adam Trese and Eric Scheffer Stevens, respectively). After her uncle has stepped out to go to the store, Sarah begins hearing noises in the house. She tells her father and he falls down the stairs as he investigates the situation. From there on in, it is her mission to get out of that house but as her ordeal progresses, it becomes clear that there is more to this situation than just a mere home invasion. What is in fact happening is actually pretty fascinating from a psychological standpoint, but unfortunately, the original terror loses its nerve before the real world scares come to light.

Running something in real time, while executed well from a technical standpoint in SILENT HOUSE, can be problematic because of all the time in between actual action. Yes, this is a frightening experience but much of that amounts to Olsen looking petrified as she goes from room to room to find a way out of her personal hell. She proves once again that she has a face that can reveal both unexpected and unnerving layers of emotional depth. Her strength elevates the film to a watchable level but not much further than that. Olsen will shine much brighter some other time, in a film with much better lighting too.

SILENT HOUSE is available on DVD and Blu-ray Tuesday, July 17, from eOne Entertainment.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Written by Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin
Directed by Benh Zeitlin
Starring Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry and Gina Montana

Hushpuppy: The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one piece breaks, even a little bit, the entire universe will get busted.

Sundance sensation, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, lives up to its name in every single one of its frames. Benh Zietlin’s first feature opens with an introduction to a world not unlike our own, but somehow simultaneously, still an entirely different one. This world looks forgotten, abandoned. Discarded keepsakes litter the empty lawns between broken down campers propped up to avoid flooding, while scattered farm animals scurry about their business. The Earth has been divided into two parts - the dry side and the wet side. No, this is not the world we know, but by the time the defenseless inhabitants make their way to their roofs to escape the torrential floods, it is certainly a world we came very close to knowing all too well not too long ago.

Zeitlin has crafted a brave picture that is exhilarating to watch, with moments of genuinely moving inspiration and other moments that are completely debilitating. Stemming from a one-act play, which was written by the co-writer of this screenplay, Lucy Alibar, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD explores this unfathomable world through the eyes of the most adorable, endearing and engrossing six-year old imaginable. Hushpuppy (played with the utmost poise and ferocity by the now 9-year old, Quvenzhané Wallis) through no choice of her own, stayed behind in an area known to the locals as “The Bathtub”, when most of the people left it behind for the dry side. You don’t get a choice when you’re 6 years old and your daddy doesn’t want to leave the land he’s known his whole life, even if it means eventually being swallowed up by the sea. Her vision of this world is intoxicating, even when things get dire and she starts to believe that she herself broke the world. “If you can fix the broken piece, everything can go back,” she boldly states at one point, when she thinks she has everything all figured out. She may have the mind of a child but she has one beast of a soul.

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD is without question the best film I’ve seen all year. It is a singularly unique experience that you will not want to end. As bright as Wallis shines in this film - and I assure you, you will be blown away by this little girl - Zeitlin’s direction elevates the picture to instant American classic status. The ideas are fresh and stay with you long after its over; the visual style and technique are superb and quite crafty given the restricted budget; and the statements Zeitlin makes about the environment and America’s handling of Hurricane Katrina are tasteful yet potent. Life in “The Bathtub” levels the playing field for everyone there and reminds us that we are all in fact beasts. Watching young, little Hushpuppy discover that she may be one of the lucky few who knows not only how to let that beast out, but also how to tame it, is an  unforgettable film experience that should not be missed.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Written by Colin Welland
Directed by Hugh Hudson
Starring Ben Cross, Ian Charleson and Ian Holm

Harold Abrahams: I’m forever in pursuit and I don’t even know what I’m chasing.

The moment you see the cluster of bare feet splashing in the water as they run along the shore of the beach, with the classic Vangelis score almost cheering them along, you know that you are about to watch one of the finest films ever made. It is the unmistakable introduction to the Oscar winning masterpiece, CHARIOTS OF FIRE. A period piece in nature, it is propelled forward by the youthful exuberance that stems from each of its idealistic young male leads. And while director, Hugh Hudson allows just the right amount of time and pace to respect the genre, it is still an incredibly tense race to get to what promises to be an electrifying finish.

In 1919, a young man by the name of Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) took up attendance at the University of Cambridge. Abrahams is a gifted man. He can run faster than any Cambridge man who has ever come before him, proving this to his colleagues and professors by taking on a running challenge that has never been beaten before and beating it on the first day of school. His unflinching confidence allows him to pursue his every whim and desire, no matter whether that be the love interest of one of his best friends or the coach of a rival runner. And even though he stands at the top of his game, he still feels as though he has something to prove because he is Jewish. Harold even sees his time at Cambridge to be suspect, suggesting that they have led him to the water but they would never let him drink. So, Harold runs. He wants to win in the name of his country and his university but what propels his feet is his deeper need to throw his win in their faces.

Harold has a nemesis. Hailing from Scotland, Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson), runs for a very different reason than Harold. Eric runs because he believes that the very grace of his Christian God guides his feet to glory. “If you commit yourself to the love of Christ, then that is how you own a straight race,” Eric says to a gathering of other believers. Though he believes at first that his racing journey will lead him closer to God by allowing him to honour the gifts he has been bestowed, it appears to take him further away instead. He must postpone his missionary work duties in order to pursue the dream of Olympic gold and as he strays further away from helping others, he begins to question whether he truly is just helping himself. The fact that Eric is devoutly Christian deepens his rivalry with Harold, although not directly by either party. Colin Welland’s beautifully subtle script demonstrates an awareness of the characters’ symbolic elements but also ensures that they each have individual growth to inform their true character.

As the entire narrative CHARIOTS OF FIRE builds towards the 1924 Olympics in Paris, France, just as it did in the real lives this film was based upon, the focus on the racing itself distracts these young men from some of the more pressing issues of the day. While they enjoy their privileged pursuit of higher education and world renowned athletic acknowledgement, the generation that came before them was devastated in the first World War. Bigotry and prejudice brew in hushed conversations that are mounting in volume. And even though all these young men come from their own potentially tarnished backgrounds, every single one of them comes from privilege. No matter how fast they can run, they will never outrun the growing unrest coming up behind them. These young men run on a track all their own though and they still leave enough dust in their tracks to keep blindly running forward in pursuit of gold.

CHARIOTS OF FIRE is now available to rent or own on Blu-ray for the very first time, courtesy of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

Sunday, July 08, 2012


An interview with COMIC-CON EPISODE IV: A FAN’S HOPE director, Morgan Spurlock

“Wear comfortable shoes; that’s rule number one.” This is the advice, Oscar-nominated documentarian, Morgan Spurlock, has for you if you are going to Comic-Con for the first time. And he would know. He just made the definitive movie on the subject.

COMIC-CON EPISODE IV: A FAN’S HOPE is more than just a geeky movie with a cheeky title. Nerd or not, you must know by now that every year in San Diego, masses upon masses of mad fans make their way to a convention called Comic-Con, where they can delight in all things considered even marginally geek-tastic amidst their most ardent fellow followers. You’ve maybe snickered at the parade of costumed patrons reported on the news but you’re missing out if that’s all you think there is to this massive event.

“I think there are a tremendous amount of people out there with this mistaken view that these are people who don’t have any friends. I think the movie shows you that these are actually incredibly passionate people who do have their shit together,” Spurlock tells me when we meet (for the second time over the phone). “These people aren’t losers who waste their time in Mom and Dad’s basement anymore; these are people who are really creative and inspired and driven.”

Spurlock isn’t kidding either. Over the course of just one week, Spurlock and his 160-person, 25 camera crew, followed around a handful of individuals, all of whom had come to the Con with very specific goals in mind. “Our goal from the beginning was to root it in people who had real stakes. Some of the stakes are of course greater than others but they’re still stakes. Whether that’s getting your hands on a gigantic action figure or whether a comic book dealer will be able to keep his store afloat or not,” describes Spurlock.

It isn’t just fun and games either when your concern is that you’re proposing to your girlfriend in front of thousands of people. “Will she really say yes or will she tell him to take his one ring to rule them all and leave?,” Morgan quips without missing a beat. “The more that we could show a real sense of purpose for going to Comic-Con, the more the movie would be relatable to a lot of people.”

COMIC-CON EPISODE IV also features a number of talking heads, from THE AVENGERS director, Joss Whedon (also an executive producer on the project) to CLERKS director, Kevin Smith. There are also fans and writers and artists and actors but the one person you never see is the one person who is always up front and center in Spurlock’s movies, Morgan Spurlock himself.

“We decided we wanted to get people who live and breathe Comic-Con every single year, for it to completely be about them, about their experiences, about their passion,” Spurlock begins to explain of his decision to leave himself out of his movie for the first time. “I’m a huge fanboy; I’m a super geek. These are all things that shaped me into who I am today but we could much better illustrate the story by showing these people than just me going to Comic-Con.”

COMIC-CON EPISODE IV: A FAN’S HOPE makes its way to DVD and Blu-ray on July 10 and it is a must see for both nerds and the people who love them. Spurlock himself takes you behind the scenes of the demanding shoot and tells a great story about how he and Marvel mogul, Stan Lee, hatched the idea for the movie to begin with. There are extended interviews, as well as interviews that never made the final cut. And depending on availability and where you buy the movie, there are even limited edition action figures of Spurlock, Whedon and Lee sold with the film as a set. Just satisfy your curiosity already and see it.

The truth is, you think you know what Comic-Con is all about but you can’t possibly know unless you go. And until you can do that, there’s this movie. Finally, one last piece of advice from Spurlock if you are fortunate enough to be hitting the Con:

“Don’t be afraid to take a couple of showers a day because it gets very hot in there. Other people also get very hot. You might brush up against someone. You might even get some Wookie sweat on you. Some of those Chewie’s can get a little drippy.”

Be sure not to miss Black Sheep's 4-star review of COMIC-CON EPISODE IV: A FAN'S HOPE, as well as my first interview with Spurlock for POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD.

Review copy provided by eOne Entertainment.

Thursday, July 05, 2012


Written and Directed by Woody Allen
Starring Alec Baldwin, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Penelope Cruz and Woody Allen

Jack: What’s so great about suffering?
Monica: There’s just something attractive about a man who is plagued by the perils of existence.

Woody Allen remains true to form with his latest international comedy TO ROME WITH LOVE. And by that I mean that he has followed up a genuine hit with a complete misfire. This is Allen’s pattern after all. On occasion, he gets it just right and many people thought he did just that with last year’s MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. The Oscar winner for Original Screenplay is not my favourite Allen film by any means, but it did certainly enchant with its whimsical look at Paris and people from a cross-generational perspective. His latest hopes to achieve that same success in Rome, but it is such a disconnected collage of familiar Allen talking points that I don’t see the masses swooning this time around. And sadly, if history continues to repeat itself, we will be in store for a few more Allen misses before another hit.

I’m not really sure where to begin with TO ROME WITH LOVE. Alec Baldwin plays an architect vacationing in his former stomping grounds and Jesse Eisenberg is, what I interpret as, a younger version of himself. Baldwin revisits his past by observing Eisenberg (the character Allen himself said he would have liked to play, y’know, if he was fifty years younger) as he waffles between passion (Ellen Page) and stability (Greta Gerwig). Alison Pill referees between her new fiancé, Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti), and her parents (Judy Davis and Allen, making his first film appearance since SCOOP, another real winner), as Allen tries to make Antonio’s father (famed tenor, Fabio Armiliato) into a famous opera singer by staging him in shows where he sings in a shower. Meanwhile, Penelope Cruz plays a prostitute who is mistaken for the new wife of a young businessman (Alessandro Tiberi). They parade around the city with his family while his actual wife (Alessandra Mastronardi) remains perpetually lost in Rome. And then, as if the rest of it wasn’t absurd enough, Roberto Benigni plays a nobody who suddenly and inexplicably becomes an overnight sensation, his every move, from breakfast to bedtime, becomes public fascination. As individual parts, they are more or less amusing and occasionally very witty, but as a whole, they never cohesively come together to mean anything substantial.

TO ROME WITH LOVE was originally called, “Nero Fiddled”. The name change itself exposes what I believe to be the only major selling point about this movie. Clearly, the hope was that those who fell in love with Allen in Paris would do the same in Rome, which is, of course, just as picturesque. The reality is that there will certainly be more interest in this film as a result, but once those patrons get there, I doubt very much they will feel the warmth and charm they are expecting. Before long, everyone who celebrated Allen last year after years of denouncing him as over, will probably find themselves wondering if his late in life romp through Paris, was just a fluke.

Monday, July 02, 2012


Written by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves
Directed by Marc Webb
Starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans and Denis Leary

Spider-Man: Hey! Watch it! I’m swingin’ here! I’m swingin’ here!

My guess is that calling the new Spider-Man reboot, “The Occasionally Amazing but Mostly Just OK and Reasonably Redundant Spider-Man” might not have been a slam dunk, marketing wise, so I get why they went with the shorter, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN instead. The fact is, this latest film incarnation of everyone’s favorite web slinging superhero exists for one reason and one reason only. If Sony didn’t put out another film before a certain date, they would lose their rights back to Marvel, and one of their most successful film franchises would be finished. So they took a gamble and decided to start from scratch on a series that only finished five years ago, hoping that just enough time had passed for the next generation to claim Spidey as their own. As to whether that gamble pays off financially, which is of course the only way that really counts, that remains unseen. As for its critical success, my opinion is still swinging from side to side.

Under the direction of (500) DAYS OF SUMMER helmer, Marc Webb, who incidentally loses all trace of originality and personal voice as part of this massive machine, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN takes us back to when our lovably geeky hero, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), was still in high school. It isn’t long before he is bit by a radio active spider when he breaks away from the group at a laboratory focused on cross-species genetics. And not long after that, Peter can just tell; something is not right from his spider bite. The problem here is that this whole spider bite bit has already been done, and not so long ago. Sure, everyone is entitled to their own different take on the tale but Webb’s doesn’t feel all that different than Sam Raimi’s 2002 version. You can’t really mess too much with an origin story, unless you want to enrage the fanboys (and girls), but that doesn’t leave today’s viewer, whose memory may not have entirely faded after just ten years, to feel like they’re watching something they haven’t already seen. By the time Parker loses his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) in a senseless mugging, it feels like a plot point we just had to get past rather than the pivotal moment it truly is.

To overcome the more plodding details of the plot, Webb must differentiate his Spider-Man visually and through character. Garfield is a great Peter Parker. In his teenage form, Parker is very shy and befuddled around others. He has a strong moral compass but he hasn’t yet figured his whole self out so his motivations can occasionally be heavily influenced by his ego. And once he’s flying through the air as Spider-Man, Garfield continues to soar in the part. He is a more aggressive, more raw, more fearless Spider-Man than Tobey Maguire ever was. His cunning often caught me off guard and Spidey’s rumbles with The Lizard (Rhys Ifans) are some of the film’s more exhilarating moments. When it comes down to it, if you’re a fan of Spider-Man movies, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN can be an incredible ride. I for one love flying through the air on nothing but a web and a prayer, but when this ride comes to its inevitable end, some may feel like they’ve already been on it before.