Sunday, September 30, 2012

Black Sheep does TV: MODERN FAMILY Season 3

These days, there are so many options on television for people to choose from, it can be pretty difficult to get people to agree on just one show. There is one show that everyone I know never fails to miss though. It doesn't matter who I speak to - my boss, my mother, heck even my cat loves MODERN FAMILY. And while the fourth season may have just started up again recently on ABC, the third season is now available to purchase from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Did I mention that this season also just took home four Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series and Outstanding Comedy Series itself, an honour MODERN FAMILY has now won each of the three years it has been on the air? Oh, I didn't. Well, it did.

MODERN FAMILY also picked up supporting actor Emmy wins for Julie Bowen and Eric Stonestreet, who play Claire Dunphy and Cameron Tucker, respectively. Both are now two-time winners for playing these parts and both of the episodes they won for are stellar examples of how the show continues to find new ways to showcase its incredibly talented ensemble. In "Go Bullfrogs!", while Phil (Ty Burrell, himself a past winner) shows Haley (Sarah Hyland) around his old campus stomping grounds, Claire takes advantage of an empty house to have a night all to herself, which involves a fair amount of alcohol and hilarity. And in "Treehouse", Cameron makes a bet with his partner, Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), that he cannot pass for straight and pick up the hot girl at the bar. Best part about this bet, the hot girl is Leslie Mann. The season finale, "Baby on Board", in which Cameron, Mitchell and Gloria (Sofia Vergara) head to a border town hospital to get a new baby brother for Lily (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons), clearly demonstrates why it won the show it's directing honours (for show co-creator, Steven Levitan), as the whole thing unravels into a Spanish telenovela.

After devouring the first two seasons of MODERN FAMILY, I wondered to myself how this show could remain so fresh despite not really progressing much at all. Not much has really changed for the extended Pritchett/Dunphy family over the years but somehow the show is never dull. After seeing the third season, I think I've finally figured it out. The secret to the show's success can simply be attributed to how this mix of people actually seem like a real, genuine family, one that is growing closer every year and that is supportive to a fault. As the real modern family continues to grow further and further apart, it's very nice to be let into a few homes each week where the original pillars of society are not only still in tact but standing tall and proud. And now you can have that in your home.

Review copy provided by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


Written and Directed by Rian Johnson
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels and Bruce Willis

Abe: It’s the little ones that get you.

In 2005, a little movie called BRICK boldly announced the arrival of writer/director, Rian Johnson, as a crisp, witty new voice in cinema. It also solidified its star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as the it indie boy of the day. Seven years later, the twosome have finally reunited and their new collaboration, LOOPER, showcases their maturity and growth, demonstrating just how far each of them have truly come.

As they are quick to explain in the narrative, time travel does not exist in 2044, the year in which LOOPER takes place. It does however exist 30 years past that point. Apparently, it is near impossible to get away with murder in the last quarter of this century, so the mob sends people back in time to be shot and disposed of the moment they arrive by what are known as loopers. Gordon-Levitt plays one of these loopers and a successful one at that. Successful that is, until the day his future self is sent back to be killed but runs away before his present day version can do the job. For those of you not already in the loop, this is called closing your loop.

LOOPER relies heavily on this intricately woven timeline, which is only further complicated when you consider why the older version of himself (played by Bruce Willis) runs in the first place. Johnson easily handles the twists and turns he himself crafted in his near airtight screenplay and Gordon-Levitt is leading his charge. LOOPER is an exciting and ambitious project that Johnson pulls off effortlessly and with the style of master in the making.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


An interview with Mathieu Roy, director of SURVIVING PROGRESS

When you think progress, you immediately think good things. All the advancement that civilization has brought about - from the technological to the societal - are all clear indicators that human beings are capable of greatness far beyond their original scope. You’d have to be pretty crazy to argue the opposite, right? Well, call him crazy then, because Montreal filmmaker, Mathieu Roy, presents progress as something that could actually be the death of humanity in his new documentary, SURVIVING PROGRESS.

Six years ago, Roy read Ronald Wright’s best-seller, “A Short History of Progress”, and was inspired to make his third non-narrative feature. The book consists of a series of lectures that paint civilization itself as an experiment, and a failing one at that. The rationale is that the ever-growing global civilization, and all the resources required to maintain that continued growth, has reached a point where it will soon become unsustainable. Aside from grappling with that hard reality, Roy was also faced with the difficult task of translating it to film.

Still from Surviving Progress
“We tried many things. At some point, I even considered fictional characters,” Roy explains of his process, revealing also that he debated taking the same non-verbal approach used in films like BARAKA and KOYAANISQATSI. Fortunately for Roy, his production team contained some pretty experienced names to help point him in the right direction, including none other than Martin Scorsese, whom he worked for, as an assistant, when Scorsese shot THE AVIATOR.

It was the film’s executive producer, and director of THE CORPORATION, Mark Achbar, that suggested Roy speak with Harold Crooks, a co-writer on THE CORPORATION. This collaboration was so successful that Crooks would go on to become the co-writer and co-director of SURVIVING PROGRESS. “Harold and I met and he asked what was important to me, what was the essence of the film,” Roy recounts. “We had numerous debates and conversations about it and we came up with a treatment that is not that far from the film we have today.”

Roy photographed for my original Hour Community cover story
Crooks was excited to come aboard. “It’s not every day you get the chance to make a film about the fate of civilization,” Crooks declares with exuberance, yet still fully aware of the weight that opportunity carries. “We had to grow as human beings in our knowledge, and in our understanding of the issues.” And grow they did. For Roy, surviving the intense depth of research necessary to make SURVIVING PROGRESS, brought about some of his life’s most significant personal progress. “It was a heightening experience, an experience that has made me a better human being, someone that definitely understands the mechanism of the world better than I did before.”

Roy again
The issues Roy and Crooks raise are all interconnected and span the full 5000 years civilization has been in existence, which represents but 0.2% of our evolutionary timeline (just one of the fascinating bits of information I drew from the film). They range from the developments in synthetic biology to the relationship between Wall Street and the destruction of the rain forest and even China’s embracing of the capitalist mode of production. Crooks elaborates, “We didn’t want yet another eco-collapse, Wall Street disaster film. Given that civilization is an experiment, there was no guarantee it was going to be a success. So, from that perspective, and with the lessons of previous civilizations that have run over the cliff, we identified key factors that pushed them over the edge, and tried to find them in the present. We then had to weave a tapestry of all of these issues cinematically.”

Still from Surviving Progress
It was important for Roy as well to differentiate SURVIVING PROGRESS from the mounting glut of docs preaching doom and gloom. “Our film digs deeper into human nature and tries to go way back to understand the patterns we create,” he says. Crooks continues Roy’s thought process as seamlessly as one would expect from two people who have been working together on the same project for five years. “From very early on though, we agreed that this would not be a historical film, that it would be rooted in the present and looking forward.”

Speaking of forward, SURVIVING PROGRESS may not provide answers or solutions to the problems it points out in our modern design but, unlike many other fatalist forms of filmmaking, it does provide possibilities. “Technology will not solve the problem. Technology will only further aggravate the problem,” Roy states with conviction. “It’s simply about limits. We provide some solutions but we also show debate on these solutions. It was important for us to provide the audience with an array of different points of view.”

A filmmaker interested in allowing audiences to come to their own conclusions? Now that’s progress we could all survive.

SURVIVING PROGRESS is available on DVD now from Alliance Films.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


An interview with THE AVENGERS star, Mark Ruffalo

This article originally appeared in the final issue of Hour Community.

When one thinks of veteran character actor, Mark Ruffalo, one might think of his 2000 breakout film, Kenneth Lonergan’s YOU CAN COUNT ON ME. Or perhaps of all the directors he’s worked with, from Michel Gondry (ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND) to David Fincher (ZODIAC) to Martin Scorsese (SHUTTER ISLAND). Most probably remember his Oscar-nominated supporting turn in Lisa Cholodenko’s THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT. I think it’s fair to say though that a giant franchise superhero movie would be the last place people would expect to see him. Well, that’s all about to change.

“My first reaction was to try to talk Joss out of casting me,” Ruffalo recalls of the moment director, Joss Whedon, told him he wanted him to replace Edward Norton as The Hulk in this summer’s mammoth comic book movie, THE AVENGERS. “Then I started to think, if I can get past all of the baggage of the part, I could maybe do something different and cool with it.”

Still, Ruffalo’s time on set was a challenge at first. “I was really nervous. My overall feeling on the set was probably not so dissimilar to Banner’s in the film. What am I doing here? Do I belong here? Look at how cool all these guys are!”

Ruffalo may now be one of the cool kids, which also includes Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Chris Evans as Captain America, but The Hulk has always been hit or miss, mostly miss, with film audiences. Ruffalo’s take though is resonating so much with fans that Marvel is now considering another standalone Hulk movie in the future.

The success of the character is something Ruffalo attributes to working with Whedon. “My first rehearsal with Joss was literally an hour in a room just wrestling,” Ruffalo explains of Whedon’s unorthodox approach to bringing out the beast in the man. “Joss and I definitely felt that this was a continuation of the last Hulk movie, with this idea that he might have some control over it. This next version of Banner, has been on the run for another 3 or 4 years, is getting into his 40’s, getting tired, longing for a life, maybe a family, and has a sense of humour about himself and a level of acceptance for this side of himself. Maybe he can finally face himself.”

That’s an awful lot of depth for a character who is most famous for smashing things.

Ruffalo has signed a 6-picture deal with Marvel to appear as The Hulk on screen. While thrilled at the possibilities, Ruffalo, who used to read Marvel comics as a boy, is also a realist. “I mean how much longer can I play The Hulk? If it takes three years to make the next Avengers and then another three years to make a Hulk, I’ll be in my 50’s,” Ruffalo, now 44, admits. “At some point, there is an obsolescence to a 6-picture deal. I’ll be happy if I end up just doing three.”

In the meantime, Ruffalo finally has a movie he can watch with his kids, three with his wife of 12 years, Sunrise Coigney. “I do realize that most of the movies I’ve made, my kids won’t be able to see until they’re in their teens,” Ruffalo quips. “This is something I felt like they could see. It interests me; it isn’t dumb; it doesn’t glorify violence just for the thrill of it. And at the same time, I don’t feel like I’ve compromised my artistic integrity. So it kinda just fit all the right boxes.”

Perhaps Ruffalo’s integrity is in tact because THE AVENGERS is not just mindless popcorn fluff but rather a genuine smash of a film. “Everything was grounded in character and in a reality that you really wouldn’t expect from this movie,” Ruffalo states with evident pride and satisfaction in the project. “If you can bring something real and naturalistic to this totally fantastical, unnatural world, then you stand out from the rest."

Best of Black Sheep: THE AVENGERS

Written and Directed by Joss Whedon
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johannson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston and Samuel L. Jackson

Captain America: Stark, we need a plan of attack.
Iron Man: I have a plan. Attack.

Comic book movies or superhero movies or whatever you want to call them, all inherently have a very difficult task to accomplish. They all have to cater to a notoriously picky niche market, made up of detail oriented fanboys, while still remaining broad enough to appeal to the masses. They cost a fortune so they cannot afford not to attract the widest audience possible, but if they play it too broad, the fanatics will denounce the film and ruin any chance it has of making any money back. THE AVENGERS is the mecca of superhero movies. It reportedly cost $220 million to make. It features no less than seven iconic Marvel comic characters. And, given just how darn good it is, it actually stands the chance to become the biggest superhero movie of all time.

If you’re like me, the first ten minutes of THE AVENGERS might be a little bewildering. The script presupposes that you’ve seen all the Avenger related movies leading up to this one. As it turns out, I have, with the first IRON MAN (Robert Downey Jr.) and THOR (Chris Hemsworth) being my favourites.  Still, that doesn’t mean that they are always freshly at the forefront of my mind. So once I pieced together that Thor’s brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) was working with an alien race to take over Earth by harvesting the energy from what is known as the Tesseract, I was good to go. (I’m sure the history behind this premise is far more rich than I’ve just described but for casual Avenger fans like myself, this description is more than adequate to get your bearings.) What follows the initial and inevitable set up though is two hours of non-stop excitement with a surprisingly solid amount of depth and character study to make THE AVENGERS the perfect popcorn movie to kick off the summer.

It is Loki’s mission to force the people of Earth into submission by using great force. His belief is that freedom is the world’s greatest lie, that pursuing a life of slavery and worship unburdens the individual of feeling any sense of failure. Without any unique goals, there is only the common to pursue. You should know that Loki has a bevy of his own daddy issues to work out and vanquishing Earth is just his way of dealing with things. You should also know that Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the leader of S.H.I.E.L.D. (which stands for Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division) is not going to just allow this to happen. So he enlists the help of six individuals, all of which possess a particular power or skill that makes them a definite asset to have in an intergalactic war of this magnitude, and dubs them The Avengers. Unfortunately for Fury, The Avengers are all also intense loners who do not play well with others.

Perhaps the greatest honorary Avenger out there is writer/director, Joss Whedon. Marvel entrusted a film they have been building up to for years now to a man who has built a reputation for creating deeply engaging yet still highly entertaining genre fare on television, like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, but whose only feature length film (SERENITY) tanked. Whedon is right at home here though and he has a seemingly easy time balancing the screen time between all these heavy hitters, from Chris Evans (Captain America) and Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) to Scarlett Johannson (Black Widow) and Mark Ruffalo (taking over the role of The Hulk from predecessor, Edward Norton), while simultaneously juggling all of their individual arcs and development. The genius of Whedon’s work here is that he has them all subtly fighting against each other and against the idea of working together long enough to forget they were fighting so hard against themselves before any of this started. And when they start fighting together, that’s when THE AVENGERS goes from being a great comic book movie to being a great movie, period.

Saturday, September 22, 2012


An interview with Jake Gyllenhaal, for END OF WATCH.

“And what was that other question you asked?” I heard a very relaxed and a very handsome, Jake Gyllenhaal, say to me early one morning during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. A very tired and a very frazzled me, sheepishly replied, “Uh, I was wondering if it was difficult for you to grow your hair back out after the shoot.” He smiles directly at me with those big, blue eyes and says, “Yeah, I just had to make you repeat that one.” Wow. Jake Gyllenhaal had just messed with me. Heaven.

To be fair, I preceded that hair question with a serious one about whether his time on END OF WATCH, his new badass cop film co-starring Michael Pena and written and directer by David Ayer (TRAINING DAY), was any more difficult to shake off at the end of each day.

“I’m just happy being in Toronto promoting this movie and having made this movie,” Gyllenhaal continues. “To me, honestly, this movie was not about vanity. I totally respect the intention of the question but it’s very hard for me to talk about hair when I feel like the police officers I worked with have much more important issues to think about. I feel like I’d be doing them a disservice.”

The great thing about Gyllenhaal, or what I can assess of him from the scant fifteen minutes we shared a room together, is that his earnestness is as plain as the nose on his face. Well, there’s nothing really plain about his nose but you get where I’m going with this. And it’s not like he didn’t give me a wealth of great material for my previous question.

Gyllenhaal with co-star, Pena, in END OF WATCH

“The process of making the movie, 22 day shoot in all, was probably the least intense part of the whole journey,” Gyllenhaal explains. He and on-screen partner, Pena, spent two to three nights a week for five months riding along with Los Angeles Police Department officers in preparation for the part, a lengthy prep period by any Hollywood standard. “When I would be driving home at 5:00 in the morning, having worked in South Central, it would take me a couple of hours just to get to sleep. I would also think, it’s not my job but i’m observing it and i’m continuously observing it. And yet you’re not really involved so there is this strange middle ground where you exist. This can make you weirdly feel even more alone.”

Aside from exposing Gyllenhaal, an Oscar nominee and Los Angeles native, to the harsh reality of the unfamiliar streets in South Central, the purpose of the ride alongs was to bond him to Pena. Ayer’s script called for Gyllenhaal and Pena to be so much more than mere partners; the script specifically refers to them as brothers.

Gyllenhaal in a recent Details spread

“You have to have that brotherhood in order for the movie to work,” Pena explains, when asked about his chemistry with Gyllenhaal. “We didn’t get along like brothers instantaneously but after all that time together, I knew that Jake had my back.”

In Gyllenhaal’s mind, if they didn’t get this camaraderie just right, then END OF WATCH would not have worked at all. “To me, the movie is about a relationship, the movie is about a friendship, the movie or the reason I wanted to do the movie is not because it was about cops,” Gyllenhaal exclaims. For him, the buddy cop genre is entirely irrelevant in this case. “I think you can take these two guys out of uniform and put them in another context and it would still be an interesting movie to watch.”

Of course, if it were an entirely different movie, like if Gyllenhaal and Pena were playing say, I don’t know, extreme cupcake partners, or something just as equally ridiculous, I’m not sure END OF WATCH would have had the same impact on his life.

Gyllenhaal with END OF WATCH co-star, Anna Kendrick

“I had never approached a film or a character in this way. It was really informative to me as an actor and really as a person,” a very appreciated and seemingly genuine Gyllenhaal reveals. “The relationships we made along those five months, the experiences we had together, they changed my life as a person. The movie for me almost feels like an after thought. It was a very special process for me. Michael and I will always share that and always be close because of that.”

Gyllenhaal is a self-professed actor’s actor, having worked opposite some of the best of them, from Heath Ledger (BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN) to Natalie Portman (BROTHERS). “I love actors!” I have no issue presuming an exclamation point there; he was that enthusiastic when he said. “I love watching them work. I love seeing somebody just kill it. It is the biggest joy that I have weirdly as an actor, that I get to be inside that process.”

Perhaps my favourite shot of Gyllenhaal, from BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN

At just 31 years of age, and with upcoming projects as varied as Oscar-nominee, Denis Villeneuve’s follow-up to INCENDIES, AN ENEMY, in which he plays two polar opposite characters, to appearing an original off-Broadway play called, “If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet”, Gyllenhaal shows no signs of slowing or easing into simpler roles. This not only bodes well for his future but it means there will be plenty more opportunities for him to mess with me again. Either way, as long as he continues, Gyllenhaal will be happy.

“To me, playing a character and making relationships with people, really learning about their stories, is what I love to do. And hopefully that’s what will be it for the rest of my life.”

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Written and Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams

Lancaster Dodd: Man is not an animal. We are not a part of the animal kingdom.

One of today’s most remarkable American film directors, Paul Thomas Anderson, returns with yet another majestic work, that is both visually stunning and psychologically enthralling. THE MASTER pits a disturbed and unhinged former sailor, just back from the war, against the intellectual and commanding leader of a budding religious group, and it is never quite clear just who is playing who. As the film inevitably lingers on in your mind after it’s done though, it becomes clear that there really only was one master all along, and that is undeniably, Mr. Anderson himself.

THE MASTER marks a very welcome return to narrative filmmaking for Joaquin Phoenix, who plays the aforementioned sailor, Freddie Quell. He struggles to find his path as he attempts reintegration into society after WWII, drifting from one pointless job to the next, as he inevitably makes a mess of each opportunity he’s given. He is prone to aggressive and violent outbursts and thanks to Phoenix’s stone cold expression, it is near impossible to tell whether he intentionally means to lash out or whether he truly cannot control himself. While lost on land, he finds himself again at sea, on a boat commandeered by one Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the aforementioned, and self-proclaimed, religious leader. Dodd has founded The Cause and aims to integrate Quell into his fold by healing the demons of his past. Much to Dodd’s dismay though, some demons cannot be tamed.

The Cause is a religion founded in the 1950’s that helps its practitioners return to their true selves through a series of exercises designed to conquer the lingering effects of past trauma. Anderson insists that The Cause is not a thinly veiled attempt at criticizing the controversial religion known as Scientology, but that just doesn’t ring true. Scientology was also formed in the 1950’s and also employs similar methods, known as auditing, which essentially accomplish the same task I just described. It seems silly to look at THE MASTER as anything other than a judgmental look at Scientology really. While it is a fascinating character piece, as Anderson’s films generally are, Dodd’s difficulty rehabilitating the deranged Quell, points to undeniable flaws in his system. If all mankind is eternal, then we should all be able to find our way back from our animalistic behaviour and toward our true, honest selves.

As technically perfect as it is, THE MASTER is the least emotionally engaging film of Anderson’s I’ve seen. I was so locked in on a cerebral level, overwhelmed by the brilliant cinematography (presented in 70MM and shot by Mihai Malaimaire Jr.), another obscurely melodic score by Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead, THERE WILL BE BLOOD) and unforgettable  performances from actors at the top of their game (including Amy Adams, as Dodd’s submissive yet dominant wife, Peggy Dodd). Still, I was somewhat taken aback when it ended. I felt as though there was more to this story that had yet to be told. Repeat viewings will likely prove me wrong, as Anderson is in full control of his facilities, but for all its prowess, THE MASTER left me a little cold. Anderson may be a true movie making master, but if he relinquishes just a little bit of control, he might unleash a genius we have never known the likes of. Hell, if he does that, he may even lead his own religion some day.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Written and Directed by Steven Chbosky
Starring Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller

Charlie: I’m both happy and sad and I’m just trying to figure out how to be.

I suppose there isn’t too much trouble of a film not being faithful to the book when the author of said book both writes the screenplay and then directs that screenplay himself. Steven Chbosky’s 1999 novel, THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, was instantly adored by young adults everywhere but yet still took more than ten years to find its way to the big screen. The wait was worth it though as Chbosky has had all that time to sit with these characters and this story. He steps behind the camera for the first time in his career and he does so with the material he knows better than anything else in the world.  His familiarity paves the way for both our comfort and our ultimate enjoyment but it also doesn’t bring much of anything new either.

At the center of THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER is Charlie, played by relative unknown, Logan Lerman. Well, given that Charlie is the wallflower himself, he’s actually not so much at the center as he is off to the side, watching and learning. We don’t know much about Charlie when we first meet him, other than he is starting high school and his best friend committed suicide earlier in the year. Charlie is extremely shy but determined to integrate in fear of returning to the depression he felt after he lost his friend. The most introverted person in school then meets Sam and Patrick, (Emma Watson and Ezra Miller), step-sibling, high school seniors, who happen to be two of the most extroverted people in school. They are fast friends, as is clear from their effortless chemistry with each other, and Charlie is catapulted into a world that is more alive than anything he’s ever known. Their adventures are fun to tag along on, and for a while, the film is a firm reminder of the importance of having true friends in your life.

Charlie’s journey is of great import. It is made so by the endearing and engaging performance given by Lerman. It may also be the abundant innocence in his face. Charlie is merely learning about how to date a girl or what happens when you don’t ask what’s in the brownies first, but his face is always dripping with awe and his observations are always inspired and appreciative. It is hard not to be taken in by his charm and constant state of wonder. Once taken in though, it all feels surprisingly agreeable considering Charlie’s haunted past. Chbosky creates a safe environment for all his creations to be free like the social misfits they are, but once they’re done trying their hardest to be different, you realize THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER isn’t all that dissimilar to most coming of age stories you’ve already seen. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Not Your Typical Cabin
An interview with THE CABIN IN THE WOODS director, Drew Goddard

You might feel like you’ve seen this one before. A mixed bag of tight-bodies and quick witted teenagers make their way to a secluded cabin in the middle of nowhere, where naturally no one will ever hear their screams for help when they inevitably get sliced up into little bits. THE CABIN IN THE WOODS may look like this movie, and on some levels, it is, but on other levels, sometimes other worldly levels, it most certainly is not.

“We just love horror movies and this just stemmed from that love,” director and co-writer, Drew Goddard, tells me just a few hours before the Canadian premiere of his first feature. “We both just wanted to write a love letter to this genre.”

The “we” Goddard is referring to is himself and a man he refers to as his “partner in crime”, Joss Whedon. Goddard and Whedon first met on Whedon’s cult classic series, "Buffy and the Vampire Slayer", and went on to work with him on the spin-off series, "Angel", as well. “We just enjoy working together and we always talked after those shows went off the air about finding something else to do.”

Working with Whedon again was like old hat for Goddard. “We like to write fast. A lot of times when you don’t have a parachute, you leap into some very interesting places. So we locked ourselves in a hotel and didn’t leave until we had a script.” When I suggest that a cabin, say, in the woods might have been more apt, Goddard replies, “I feel like we didn’t need to do any method writing.”

Whedon to the left, Goddard to the right
What sets THE CABIN IN THE WOODS apart from the torture porn one would expect from the premise, is the action behind the scenes. These teens, led by Chris Hemsworth (Thor before he became Thor) and Kristen Connolly, are being chased and tormented but by whom and for what purpose? There is a genuine reason this is all happening, something that has been sorely lacking from the horror genre for some time now. “It felt like the studios were just recycling,” Goddard explains of his motivation. “And whenever the recycling starts to happen, that’s when you want to do something new. You can feel when there is no love behind them. When people making the film don’t care, it bleeds into the audience.”

And even when there is love propelling a project like this forward, it can still be tricky to set the tone just right. “First and foremost, we want to make a real movie. This is not a parody,” Goddard explains of the delicate balance between homage, horror and humour. Fortunately, Goddard was working with an expert. “That comes a lot from Joss’s aesthetic. The trick is to get to the truth of the characters.”

The victims, I mean, cast of CABIN
Regardless of who was at his side, Goddard can now also officially call himself a director, not just the guy who wrote a bunch of episodes of some of the most beloved television shows in history - from the aforementioned "Buffy" and "Angel" to his work with another famous geek, J.J. Abrams, including "Alias" and "Lost". And while he loved directing, his next gig finds him returning to writing with the new Steven Spielberg project, ROBOPOCALYPSE. His reaction to discovering he would be working with Spielberg: “Am I dead? Is this a weird fever dream I’m having?”

First things first though, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS is finally hitting theatres after a few years on the shelf, thanks to MGM’s bankruptcy issues. And with all the buzz coming out of the film’s premiere at the SXSW festival earlier this year, I’d say it is well worth the wait. Goddard could simply not be happier. “Buzz like this is what you always hope for and yet you can’t force. You’ve gotta just make the best movie you can and hope for the best.”

THE CABIN IN THE WOODS is now available on DVD & Blu-ray from Alliance Films.

Monday, September 17, 2012


Written by Alex Garland
Directed by Pete Travis
Starring Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby and Lena Headley

Chief Judge: Sink or swim; chuck her in the deep end.
Judge Dredd: It’s all a deep end.

No matter how hard I try, I cannot remember seeing JUDGE DREDD, the 1995 film starring Sylvester Stallone, that was based on the comic book of the same name. My brother tells me I needn’t relive it, describing it as Stallone at his worst, and Rob Schneider at his worst (which is really saying something when you think about it). And as this latest adaptation, by British director, Pete Travis, is entirely unrelated to the previous film, I’m glad I don’t have to. That said, DREDD 3D may end up being just as memorable in the end.

Screenwriter, Alex Garland, is responsible for some of the more interesting Danny Boyle films, like 28 DAYS LATER and SUNSHINE, so it is rather puzzling to me how thin his work on DREDD 3D is. I understand the action is the point here, but there is truly nothing of note going on in this film. Two judges, which is to say futuristic police officers who have the authority to capture and sentence their perpetrators on the spot, are trapped inside a 200-story building that is run from top to bottom by a ruthless street gang. It’s two against dozens, which is certainly a good tension builder, but the depth stops there.

I preferred this movie when it was called THE RAID: REDEMPTION. At least that one relied on the action itself instead of special effects. Maybe DREDD 3D is just not for me. I think there was maybe just one too many heads exploding against the pavement in a bizarre slow motion effect that exists somewhere between glitter and gore for my taste.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Black Sheep recaps TIFF 2012

Thirty-five films is apparently my limit. It is the morning of the last day of the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival and technically, I still have two more films to go but I just can't do it. I have been in TIFF mode now since the middle of August, between advance screenings and early reviews and securing my public screening schedule. Yesterday, I saw three films back to back to back and tomorrow I go back to my day job. There has to be one day off in between!

This festival was a very strange experience for me. Last year, I ran around like a mad man from screening to interview to screening again, and I loved every second of it! I might have griped about the lack of sleep and the deadlines but I felt totally alive and in my natural element. This year, as I've maybe mentioned once or twice, I was not an accredited member of the press for the film festival. So, when the festival began way, way back on the sixth of September, I was at home, writing and reading everyone's tweets about being at the festival already, attending press screenings and booking interviews. I felt completely detached and it didn't feel good.

I had to learn to enjoy the festival experience I was having, as opposed to the one I wished I was having. The truth of it is, this year I put out more reviews than I ever have during TIFF, 25 in total, and Black Sheep's readership has never been higher as a result. I may have only scored a handful of interviews but one of those interviews was with Jake Gyllenhaal. Not only was this a dream interview of mine but it also showed me that my reputation with the film companies alone is good enough to still secure the big names. Once I booked that interview, a few more came in, and the tide had turned for me.

It was such a delight to see so many public screenings this year. The energy is always incredible and I am always so moved to see such a huge film community in the city I live in. It makes me feel like less alone and also reminds me that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.

For next year, the goal is simple. I have a whole year to get my name out there further and get accredited again. In the meantime, I get to look back at the 35 films I saw at TIFF this year. This year's films were a healthy lot. I enjoyed a great deal of them but very few blew me away. Of those I didn't like, only one really made me want to walk out. I personally didn't see a clear frontrunner for the best picture of the year amongst the bunch but then again, I never did find my ticket to THE MASTER.

And so as tradition warrants it, here are my 5 favourite TIFF12 films (in alphabetical order):

Directed by Michael Haneke
This is one of the first TIFF films I saw and I still find it entirely unforgettable. A truly beautiful and patient film that exemplifies love for all who still wonder what it is.

Directed by Ben Affleck
This film is being tipped to take awards season by storm and it is easy to see why. I wasn't blown away by it but it is technically flawless and any film that can create that much suspense for a situation where we know how it will play out, must be commended.

Frances Ha
Directed by Noah Baumbach
This sumptuously shot comedy is so whimsical, so endearing, I cannot wait to see it again. Greta Gerwig is incredible in the title role and, if people see this film, it could make her a star. Personally, I can't wait to see it again!

Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona
Depicting the 2004 Tsunami without even ten years to put it behind us is a bold choice, turning it into a disaster movie is just a crazy one. Fortunately, Bayona pulls it off with great respect and creates one of the most emotional film experiences of the year.

The Impossible
Directed by Sarah Polley
I personally feel this is Polley's best work as a filmmaker. It is layered and insightful and, considering the subject matter itself is her own family history, it is surprisingly not the least bit egotistical. I can see a documentary feature Oscar nod coming her way easily.

When you see 35 films in one shot, you pray that they don't suck. I am very lucky to say, there is only one film this year that actually infuriated me and made me want to walk out of the theatre. That film was also an incredible surprise, as it was expected to be one of the festival's triumphs. And so I declare that the worst film I saw at TIFF this year is unfortunately Terence Malick's TO THE WONDER. Read my review. You'll see why.

Stories We Tell
And so it ends for another year. Thank you for all your continued support and for reading my reviews. It was an absolute pleasure bringing TIFF to you once again and I look forward to doing it all over again next September.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


"Written and Directed" by Terence Malick
Starring Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Javier Bardem and Rachel McAdams

Father Quintana: Where are you leading us? Teach us how to seek you out.

To be honest, it is an actual wonder to me that Terence Malick actually thought his latest film, TO THE WONDER, to be finished. I don’t see how on any level he could have watched this film and thought that it would be satisfying for any audience, from his devout fans (of which he has many) to the casual filmgoer. Even at a reasonable two-hour runtime, I found it difficult to get through TO THE WONDER. I lost my patience about half way through and by the end, I actually found the film to be practically insulting on the part of the filmmaker. The man is famous for taking forever to finish a movie. Why he rushed this one, I will never understand.

There is a story embedded somewhere deep within TO THE WONDER, which is essentially the crux of the issue. Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko fall in love in France and eventually make their way back to America, Oklahoma to be precise. There, she is out of place and he does not know how to make the relationship work. There are also subplots that involve Javier Bardem as a displaced priest and Rachel McAdams as a woman from Affleck’s past. The plot itself is thin enough already but it is clear from Malick’s execution that he has no idea how to tell this story. A slew of supporting characters never even made the cut (from Michael Sheen to Rachel Weisz) and Malick buries the rest of the story (which consists mostly of misery) within one long stream of consciousness poem. Now, I’m no poetry expert but even I know lines like, “What is this love that loves us?” are nothing but pretentious crap.

Malick is under no obligation to make movies for anyone other than himself. I’m sure his producers would disagree with that statement, but as an artist, he is entitled to express himself any which way he would like. After last year’s masterpiece, THE TREE OF LIFE, Malick seems to have found a pattern that he is fond of. He is not the least bit concerned with dialogue or convention (Affleck speaks so little in the film, for a while, I thought his character might actually be mute); no, Malick is more concerned with the image and the tone of the piece, and allowing life to unfold rather than having it told. TO THE WONDER often feels like an attempt to recreate the same aesthetic of his last project, and at times, at least visually, thanks to the always brilliant work of cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, it is striking to behold. THE TREE OF LIFE was about something though (and some might argue, it was about everything), while TO THE WONDER is about so little, it never justifies all the work involved in watching it. This infuriating film is not just a misstep for Malick, but a full on embarrassment.


Written and Directed by Paul Andrew Williams
Starring Terence Stamp, Gemma Arterton and Vanessa Redgrave

Arthur: You know how I feel about enjoying things.

From the very moment SONG FOR MARION begins, you know exactly where it is going to end and every single stop it’s going to make along the way. Writer/Director, Paul Andrew Williams, constructs his script about one older man’s acceptance of his wife’s passing, with every cliche you can possibly imagine. Fortunately for him though, he has two brilliant, veteran actors, Terence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave, doing their absolute best to transform his familiar scenario into something real. They may not be enough to make the film itself memorable but they do save it from being entirely forgettable.

Stamp plays Arthur, a crank of a man, who begrudgingly brings his cancer-ridden wife, Marion (Redgrave) to and from her glee club practices. He is the type of man who shuts himself off from the entire world, except for her. Only she knows who he is behind his stern exterior. Redgrave is exceptional. She clings to the little life she has left with every ounce of strength in her and at times, she sounds as if she will not make it to the end of her sentence. When she passes, Arthur must move on and Stamp carries Redgrave’s torch as gallantly as he can. He just isn’t given as much of substance to do with it.

Arthur never liked Marion’s glee club but in order for him to find the joy in his life without Marion, and in order to keep her memory alive as long as possible, he must find his singing voice. He also has a troubled relationship with his only son and helps the choir teacher (Gemma Arterton) with her love life when he isn’t busy grieving or practicing his lyrics. By the time Arthur actually gets to the part where he must sing a SONG FOR MARION, everything is in a very calculated place for a full emotional release. Seeing that moment coming a mile away though certainly takes away from its impact but Stamp himself, still moved me to tears.

Friday, September 14, 2012


Written by Michel Gondry, Jeffrey Grimshaw and Paul Proch
Directed by Michel Gondry
Starring Michael Brodie and Teresa Lynn

Michael: Gut feelings suck.
Luis: Gut feelings suck my dick.

The first time I ever knew I was getting older was when I was waiting in line at a concession stand behind several teenagers. I couldn’t get over how loud they were, how insistent they were to be noticed and recognized. I found them infuriating and I thought to myself, I was never that bad when I was their age, was I? That’s when I knew. And now, Michel Gondry, has captured that familiar feeling of frustration on film, with his latest, THE WE AND THE I. Only Gondry’s version is worse because it all takes place on one singular bus ride.

THE WE AND THE I is an ambitious experiment in filmmaking that Gondry more or less pulls off with the tools he has at his disposal. Like all experiments though, some things go wrong. A bus full of Brooklyn high school students make their way home on the last day of school and square off with each other until the last students reach their stop.  First of all, it takes so long to get all the kids off the bus that it actually goes from light to dark out, in June! I don’t know where these last few kids live but this was a stretch for me. Secondly, you wouldn’t know it was the last day of school unless they told you at the beginning, as none of the kids seem the least bit jubilant about it. And finally, all the kids in the film are naturally amateurs and, also naturally, some are better than others. Fortunately, none are so bad that it distracts from the film.

That’s what doesn’t work about the film. What does is actually pretty interesting. By forcing us to spend this much time in cramped quarters with these kids, they inevitably show their hands. As they all yell over each other and bully each other and blow things way out of proportion, THE WE AND THE I becomes akin to watching a nature documentary. They have no respect for others but they have even less respect, or understanding for that matter, for themselves. And, while I may have wanted to pull that bus over and throw them all off of it to start, I finished by feeling rather sorry for them. Maybe next time I am annoyed by teenagers in public, I will just go up to them and give them a hug instead of cursing them under my breath.