Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Black Sheep, it's your birthday! Happy Birthday, Lisa ... I mean, Black Sheep! Loyal readers, it is week three in the Black Sheep Reviews Birthday Giveaway ... First off, congratulations are due for last week's winners.

Charles Marcil knew that Joan Crawford played the Eva Mendes role in the 1939 original version of THE WOMEN.

Dinah Zeldin knew that LE BANQUET director, Sebastien Rose directed LA VIE AVEC MON PERE and COMMENT MA MERE ACCOUCHA DE MOI DURANT SA MENOPAUSE prior to LE BANQUET.

And there was some debate over just how much time Al Pacino and Robert De Niro spent on screen in Michael Mann's HEAT, but Matthew Belanger narrowed it down to under 10 minutes in the 3-hour epic. Technically, the one scene they actually share (discounting the one where they chase each other specifically at the end) is just over three minutes. Matthew is off to see RIGHTEOUS KILL.

This week, we are giving away passes to two more great films. One is generally considered to be one of this director's finest and the other is considered to be this director's misstep. I consider them both to be pretty darn good. As usual, the pass is for two people and is good any time as long as it is used in Quebec.

This is Woody Allen's third time working with Scarlett Johannson. The other two instances, MATCH POINT and SCOOP have both been reviewed by Black Sheep already. To win the double pass to Woody' latest success, VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA, tell me what grades I gave the other two Johannson collaborations.

Fernando Meirelles' latest film, BLINDNESS, explores how horrific humanity can get when it doesn't have to look in the eyes of another person. Name the author of the highly praised novel which the film is based on.

As always, send your responses to joseph@blacksheepreviews.com
This week's winners will be contacted today and passes will be mailed to them before the end of the week.
The contest is open all week and winners will be announced next Wednesday when two more passes will be up for grabs.
Thanks for playing and have a great week!

Sunday, September 28, 2008


Written and Directed by Michael Patrick King
Starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Kristen Davis, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon and Chris Noth

The days leading up to the premiere of the SEX AND THE CITY movie were very exciting for me. I was about to get this chance to catch up with four fictional girlfriends who changed my life and whom I hadn’t seen in years. The morning of the press screening finally came and, seeing as how it was a morning screening, I couldn’t sit there with a constant flow of cosmopolitans. To compensate, I got all dressed up and threw on my new shoes to boot. I was bubbling over with nostalgia and an energy shared amongst millions of fans who were also overcome with anticipation. And then it started. Soon afterward, my disappointment set in. Here they all were, up on the big screen, looking fabulous and doing just as good a job as they did for six years on HBO. Only something was missing. Intimacy. Subtlety. These are elements of the series that defined it, that elevated it from groundbreaking to timeless. Bringing the girls to the big screen and stretching their story over 2 ½ hours made those moments fewer and further apart. Unfortunately, now that they’ve come home to our living rooms on DVD (with an unbelievable 20-minute longer extended cut that elevates SEX AND THE CITY to unnecessarily epic proportions), the experience is no more satisfying.

Of course, now I can have that martini while I watch. And, to be clear, I didn’t hate the movie. I just had high expectations. Writer/Director Michael Patrick King and the rest of the gang certainly set the bar high for themselves so I can hardly be held accountable for wanting to live up to that standard. I even found writing about the film after its release to be pretty difficult. I could not resolve how to convey my disappointment without making it seem like the entire project should not have happened. On the big screen, the six years of these girls’ lives was reduced to a three minute opening montage on the off chance that a non-fan would actually end up in the auditorium. That was followed by over two hours of episodic (read, non-filmic) storytelling that furthered the characters in mostly interesting ways. Just like the series though, I appreciated the development of every character save for the central heroine, Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker). Her progress, on some bizarre level, reminds me of Frodo’s in the second LORD OF THE RINGS film – she starts out promising enough, goes through incredible trials and somehow at the end of a very long journey, ends up exactly where she started. (Bet you never imagined a SEX AND THE CITY/LORD OF THE RINGS comparison.) Growth is something I’ve come to expect and require from Carrie as she inspired so much of it in me and so many others. Watching her go backwards is just hard to accept.

Still, the film was an international success, finding some fans going back two and three times and the people behind the project clearly feel they did the series justice. They took four years between the series and the film because they wanted to ensure there was a strong story to be told so as not to disappoint the fans (this same explanation is being given for the potential of a sequel). The SEX AND THE CITY people know how tricky it is to stay in the public’s good graces and their appreciation of their audience is felt strongly on the 2-disc special edition DVD. MKP and SJP (King and Parker) share a 20-minute conversation about the experience that spans everything from performances to nuances and from fashion to fans. Costuming icon, Patricia Field, takes us on a tour of the unbelievable accessorized costume shop and overall design for the film that is elaborately daunting but well thought out in a surprising organic fashion. King returns for a commentary track that only further shows the sensitive side of the man behind the lens and how that sensibility finds its way into every frame. Before I knew it, my dismayed heart had turned, just a little. It just wasn’t enough for me to be completely carried away.




A few years back, a little known actor with a squeaky clean face headlined a remake of Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW for the MTV generation. The film was called DISTURBIA and it opened past all expectations to debut at number one and then stayed there for three consecutive weeks. Now, we all know how rare that is. The kid whose face drove hordes of young ladies into the theatres was Shia LaBeouf and before Steven Spielberg made LaBeouf his personal pet project, Dreamworks fast tracked another LaBeouf collaboration with DISTURBIA director, DJ Caruso. That movie was EAGLE EYE and it has finally made it to theatres. Only now LaBeouf is Hollywood’s hottest young actor so the question wasn’t whether they would be able to repeat the business DISTURBIA did. The question was how far it would beat it.

Just like DISTURBIA, EAGLE EYE surpassed expectations, surging to almost $30 million in its opening weekend, very high numbers for September standards. Reviews have been poor but since when did reviews stop anyone from enjoying their favorite eye candy. Longevity will prove LaBeouf’s staying power with this picture but a robust $8300 per screen average on 3500 screens is a great starting point.

Richard Gere and Diane Lane reteamed for the third time and proved that romantic audiences still crave more from this attractive, older couple. Adapted from the Nicholas Sparks novel, NIGHTS IN RODANTHE may have pulled in less than half of what EAGLE EYE did but it held its own and found its audience. Whether that audience was able to find its way out of the auditorium with the tears in their eyes clouding their vision is another question altogether.

Here’s a question for you. What the heck is FIREPROOF? This little movie starring 80’s sitcom idol turned born again Christian, Kirk Cameron, not only managed to open on 800+ screens but it opened in third place on Friday to finish fourth for the weekend. It almost managed a higher per screen average than EAGLE EYE. Perhaps I’m a pretty ignorant but I never even heard of this movie before Friday. Given the poor reception it has received from critics and audiences alike, I probably won’t be hearing about it for much longer but a $6 million opening weekend for a movie that cost half a million to make is certainly commendable.

The week’s only other Top 10 debut was a disappointment for auteur director, Spike Lee. His WWII drama, MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA opened to under $3K per screen and lacks the critical praise that would encourage growth in the coming weeks. That’s what you get for making a bad movie, Spike. Seriously, it’s bad. It's got to hurt too that FIREPROOF did so much better on even less screens. Ouch. Sorry, O paid $40 to see this at the Toronto festival so I'm a little bitter.

On the artier side of the street, THE DUCHESS scored an excellent expansion. The Keira Knightly star vehicle added 48 screens and saw its business jump over 200%. APPALOOSA held up well in its second week with a solid $10K per screen but no screens were added yet so its gross still dipped. Things are sure to pick up next week when it goes wide. Two other high profile indie releases debuted to disappointing results. Well, one was disappointing; the other was disastrous. CHOKE, the Fox Searchlight hopeful starring Sam Rockwell, earned just over $3K per screen to debut outside the Top 10. And proving once again that American audiences are still not willing to face films about their war, THE LUCKY ONES, in which three soldiers take a road trip while on leave, made under $500 per screen on 425 screens.

NEXT WEEK: Holy crap, what isn’t coming out next weekend? To name just a few, BLINDNESS goes wide, FLASH OF GENIUS opens on 1000+, HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS AND ALIENATE PEOPLE will try to get people to like Simon Pegg and NICK AND NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST finds Nick & Norah falling in love with each other while we fall in love with them. Oh wait, I almost forgot … the Bill Maher religion mockery, RELIGULOUS opens on Wednesday and goes wide on Friday, APPALOOSA takes the West to the masses and the Jonathan Demme masterpiece, RACHEL GETTING MARRIED dips its toes into 8 shallow pools.


Written by Jeffrey Hatcher, Anders Thomas Jensen and Saul Dibb
Directed by Saul Dibb
Starring Keira Knightly, Ralph Fiennes, Charlotte Rampling, Dominic Cooper and Hayley Atwell

Georgina, Duchess of Devonshire: I feel I’ve done some things in life too late and others too early.

It seems that with each passing year, there comes a point in time when we will inevitably find the young and beautiful, Keira Knightly, in yet another period drama. It also seems like every period drama these days, whether it features Knightly or not, feels the need to disassociate itself from the conventions of the past and assert itself as fresh, with a unique twist on the genre. This is particularly challenging when the story is one we’ve seen a number of times prior. The true story of Georgina, Duchess of Devonshire, as told by director, Saul Dibb, in THE DUCHESS, is one where a young girl of “modest” heritage is married off to an esteemed Duke for a price. Her duty is to serve his grace and provide to him a male heir. As a woman, she is nothing more than a decorative commodity and should she not be able to fulfill her wifely promises, then she is essentially useless. Dibb is smart about it though. With the point already made before the film even begins, he chooses to focus instead on the reality of this kind of imprisonment – what it feels like for a girl beneath her binding bodice.

Knightly carries the weight of this film on her shoulders while carrying the weight of the wigs on her head with poise and prominence. Her big brown eyes go from playful to shy to distraught and defeated. When we first meet her, she is free and seemingly unaware of the heavier world outside of her backyard games. Before long though, she is face to face with adulthood. This particular face belongs to Ralph Fiennes as the Duke of Devonshire. It is here that Dibb steps in to add another layer to the played out trajectory. With an age difference that is only matched in vastness by the distance between them, the Duke undresses his Duchess and asks why women’s clothing must be so complicated. There is no better occasion for small talk than before two practical strangers go to bed for the first time. Knightly, trying desperately to hide her nervousness, replies with to the obviously rhetorical question though, claiming that this is the only way for women to express themselves in the times they live in. It is clear she is not sure that a reply is necessary or even allowed but it is also clear that she speaks to ensure that she is seen, that her person is present. Her clothing falls to the floor and the imprints of her corset can still be seen on the smooth of her back.

Dibb follows this form of unexpected intimacy and insight with commentary about celebrity and how little the adoring public truly knows about their icons. The Duchess of Devonshire, or at least the one in THE DUCHESS, was an immense influence on her people. Her presence at events guaranteed crowds while her fashion determined the trends. Even her association with particular people could sway public and political opinion. She embodied grace and extravagance while remaining humble and the public ate it up. In their eyes, her life was perfect but those who traveled in closer circles knew better. They knew that there was little love between the Duke and Duchess and increased strain as she was not able to provide a male heir. Even they didn’t know just how bad it was though. The wait staff on the other hand could have made millions on a tell-all. Like Stephen Frears’ THE QUEEN, Dibb shows us what goes on on both sides of the castle gates, highlighting the drastic disconnect between the two close worlds. The Duchess was made to make many horrific choices and concessions that would have broken many a lesser person. What makes them so harrowing in the context of the film is the plainness with which they are expected by the Duke and subsequently accepted by all involved.

THE DUCHESS is shocking on many levels. It is shocking how harsh it is underneath its polished finish and how new this old tale feels. It is shocking how well Knightly can hold her pain and her own. And it is shocking how little value and worth was once afforded the women of the world. But it is perhaps most shocking that the manner in which women were once seen as a male possession, with purpose and function that only serves the male agenda, still exists today, no matter how you dress it up.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


... and hopefully into the polling booths. Everyone's favorite documentarian, Michael Moore, has put together a new film called, SLACKER UPRISING, and has made it available to you the people ... for free! All you need to do is visit the film's website (link below) to download the film. You can also order a hard copy for 10 dollars. The film essentially follows Moore on his 60-college trek to help encourage young people to vote. The last time he tried to influence an impending election (with the releases of FARENHEIT 9/11 months before the vote), he didn't make enough of a dent but he's hoping that giving the goods away this time out will do the trick.
Source: Slacker Uprising

Back before THE DARK KNIGHT broke every record this summer and changed the face of superhero films, a little movie called IRON MAN surpassed all expectations to become the 2nd biggest hit of the year while wowing audiences and critics alike, a rare feat as we all know. Paramount had set a DVD/Blu-Ray release date for September 30, expecting a huge response but then they ran right into a wall. The blu-ray discs were not functioning properly and at the last second a recall went into effect. There was even talk of, gasp, postponing! Do not fret though, Paramount has confirmed that retailers will be sufficiently stocked with functional copies and Iron Man will live on!
Source: Blu-Ray.com

Will Smith has signed on to reprise his role as Dr. Robert Neville in Warner Brothers' prequel to last year's zombie success story, I AM LEGEND. The bleak ending left no room for a sequel but the $584 million global box office take left no argument against a franchise. The new film, which is expected to be directed by Francis Lawrence, the helmer of the first flick, will focus on the days leading up to the first film, in which the plague devastated humanity. Sounds cheerful!
Source: ComicMix

The house that Mickey built has announced a number of exciting developments for film fans. I could personally care less but Nicolas Cage will be back for a third installment in the NATIONAL TREASURE series. Oprah Winfrey will be voicing the mother of the princess in their first 2D animation in ages, THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG (coincidentally also featuring Disney's first black princess). Given that CARS keeps bringing in the merchandising moolah, Pixar will be unveling their sequel a year earlier than planned in 2011. The new release date coincides with the opening of the theme park ride. And apparently, Johnny Depp and Disney are an old married couple now. Depp has signed on for three upcoming Disney features. The first is perfect (or at least potentially perfect); he will play the Madhatter in Tim Burton's ALICE IN WONDERLAND. The second is odd; he will play the role of Tonto in a LONE RANGER adaptation. The third is downright disappointing; Depp will reprise his role as Captain Jack Sparrow in a fourth PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN adventure. Yeah, I'm sure there is a lot more he can do with that character.
Source: Variety


Written by James McBride
Directed by Spike Lee
Starring Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso, Omar Benson Miller and Valentina Cervi

2nd Staff Sergeant Aubrey Stamps: I know, I’m the only one left who knows.

I know this is too easy even for me but the true miracle at the center of Spike Lee’s latest joint, MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA, is that I was able to sit through it without screaming out of sheer frustration over how hollow the whole affair was. I don’t feel so bad about taking that oversimplified stance, seeing as how Lee himself didn’t seem to have any concerns about dumbing down this important history lesson. Lee is an accomplished filmmaker and MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA is an ambitious project, even for him. He prides himself, as well he should, on telling stories from an African-American perspective that is rarely taken in mainstream film. In this case, he chose to shed some much needed light on the soldiers known as the Buffalo Soldiers, all black regiments in the U.S. army. He wanted to give the world a fresh take on the World War II epic by using an unfamiliar voice but all he accomplished was minimizing their plight by weighing down his film in tired convention and never committing to any one point of view.

I don’t mind long movies when the story warrants the time spent. MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA opens in 1983. A postal worker (Derek Luke) has just shot and murdered a man who bought a stamp off of him for no apparent reason. A statue head, one with incredible value both financially and historically, has been found tucked away at the bottom of his closet. News of the statue’s recovery spreads across the globe and an investigative journalist (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is determined to understand why a seemingly law-abiding citizen would commit such a random act of brutality. This goes on for about thirty or forty minutes until the postal worker finally agrees to tell his story. It all started in Italy during the second world war. My question is, if it all started then, why did Lee waste so much time with a pointless excuse to get to the actual story when the story in question needed no excuse to be told? This all too tired Hollywood convention needs to cease. People need to start getting to the point.

The story, adapted from James McBride’s novel of the same name by McBride himself, follows a foursome of Buffalo soldiers who survive a German attack, find a young Italian boy in need of medical attention and eventually set up camp in a small village while they wait for reinforcement. During their stay, the soldiers make friends and enemies with the townspeople, which challenges the inherent racism of all involved. It isn’t a bad story; it is just written in such a false and incredible fashion that undermines the film’s credibility. There is no time for one liners when you are being attacked on all sides by the German army but yet somehow McBride felt that quips between gunfire would alleviate the intensity, as if that were necessary. There is also apparently no time for real character development. Bringing an untold story to light means putting faces to characters that had none before. Without development, these soldiers are nothing but black soldiers instead of real people. Somehow, by forcing us to face the colour of their skin, Lee made it so that is all we end up seeing.

Spike Lee makes important movies but sometimes, he makes them with the knowledge of just how important they truly are. MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA is at times horrifying and at others, beautiful. Mostly though, it is tedious and disappointing. It is not so much disappointing that Lee wasn’t able to pull off such a huge endeavor but more so that if anyone could have done it the justice it deserved, it would have been him. Now, the story has been told but the point was never made.

Monday, September 22, 2008


Another week, another Black Sheep giveaway! It is the second week of our four part series to celebrate Black Sheep's 3 years online. First off, I must congratulate last week's winner, Mr. Alexandre Savoie for correctly identifying Joel Coen as the Coen brother that is married to regular Coen actress, Frances McDormand. Alex, your double pass to BURN AFTER READING is on its way. That said, no one was able to answer the second question regarding LE BANQUET correctly so we will be putting it back into the mix this week. Thanks to everyone who played!

Just like last time, drop an e-mail to joseph@blacksheepreviews.com with the correct answer to any of the following questions for a chance to win a double pass to see the movie any time you want, anywhere in Quebec. Winners will be announced next Wednesday.

How many minutes did Robert De Niro and Al Pacino share on screen in the three hour movie, HEAT?
(You can make an approximation)

Name one of director, Sebastien Rose's two previous films before LE BANQUET.

Who played the role Eva Mendes plays in this remake in the original 1939 George Cukor film?

Again, answers to:

Good luck to all and Happy Birthday to me!

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Written and Directed by David Gordon Green
Starring Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell, Michael Angarano, Olivia Thirlby and Amy Sedaris

Louise Parkinson: It’s easy to block out the things that upset us. It’s what most people do.

By now we’ve all seen the movie already. It’s a small town with people with small lives. They’re not like you and I. They have quirks that set them apart. And while we meet them and are introduced to all their idiosyncrasies, something happens in this small town that no one is prepared to deal with. Before you know it, you’re taken back in time to see everything that led up to this moment. Yes, we’ve all already seen this movie but though it presents itself as exactly this movie, SNOW ANGELS is not this movie whatsoever. Sure it follows that simple approach but thanks to delicate, subtle performances and a soft, sensitive direction from David Gordon Green, SNOW ANGELS is at times as precious as the image the title conjures.

Green has had an impressive year. SNOW ANGELS first debuted at the 2007 Sundance film festival but only found its way to theatres this past winter to an art house audience that embraced it for many weeks. He followed that success with the widely popular stoner comedy, PINEAPPLE EXPRESS. Though they are nothing at all alike on the surface, they do share at least one similarity if you look a little deeper. Green breathes a certain peace into his films. Whether his characters are fumbling through their crappy lives or getting lost in their own zaniness, they are given the space to allow what needs to happen to happen. In SNOW ANGELS, Green, who also wrote the screenplay, gives us a mixed bag of characters who have all been involved with each other in some form or another and are all trying to follow the straight and narrow. The trouble is that while some are trying to do their best, others give into a destruction that affects all around them.

Now available to rent or own, SNOW ANGELS makes for a very pensive and somewhat melancholy evening in. Green is still light and playful though so while it does get bleak, it never loses hope. I would sooner go with rent then own in this case though as the DVD contains no special features at all outside of scene and audio selections. For such a thoughtful film, some insight could have been put into the package. Still, the unique interaction SNOW ANGELS has with our hearts and minds is a profound one to be had.



WEEKEND BOX OFFICE: Samuel L. Jackson Moves In

Samuel L. Jackson living next door to you is apparently horrifying to everyone except perhaps the people at Screen Gems, as they celebrate the number one opening of LAKEVIEW TERRACE, in which a happy couple move to the suburbs only to find that they are living next to the neighborhood terrorist. So if you are not with the Screen Gems camp and you discover Mr. Jackson lurking around your rose bushes, I suggest you call your realtor.

LAKEVIEW TERRACE opened solidly with fifteen and a half million and a sturdy per screen average of over $6K. This would not be enough though to elevate the overall box office to the same levels as the pack of Hollywood hits from last weekend did. LAKEVIEW TERRACE is certainly the only successful wide opening of the weekend. Opening just below in third and fourth respectively was the romantic comedy, MY BEST FRIEND’S GIRL and the animated IGOR. Both films earned mediocre per screens of $3K and poor reviews. The weekend’s only other wide opener, the David Koepp directed GHOST TOWN, opened on a good chunk less screens but found a similar sized audience for an eighth place debut. All four films found their own audiences and found at the same time that these audiences weren’t all that big.

Brad Pitt was feeling generous this week when he gave $100K to support the gay community looking to keep gay marriage legal in California when the subject comes up for debate in the coming election. It’s no surprise he’s out there giving it away as he is clearly riding high on the success of his latest, BURN AFTER READING. The Coen Brothers directed pic held steady with only a 41% loss for a 2nd place finish. Good word of mouth and strong critical response has made it the must-see September title. This isn’t saying that much given the competition but it’s still something. Last week’s other holdover titles all plummeted by nearly 50% or more, showing absolutely no staying power whatsoever.

Two high profile festival favorites made their platform debuts to spectacular results this weekend. The Ed Harris directed western, APPALOOSA, scored an $18K per screen average on 14 screens. The other title outshined even that with a $29K average on a mere 7 screens. This would be the Saul Dibb directed, THE DUCHESS, starring Keira Knightly. Both will expand slowly in the weeks to come and will hopefully do so more smoothly than TOWELHEAD. After a stellar platform last week, the film fizzled after adding 14 screens, the Alan Ball directorial debut saw its per screen average drop from $13K to under $4K. The true test comes this weekend when it expands to 90 screens. If it doesn’t work out, Ball might want to change his name to Baghead because he might not want to show his face for a while.

NEXT WEEK: What is with all this overcrowding? Aside from three high profile wide releases, there are no less than a dozen limited releases vying for the North American dollar. The biggies include the Shia LaBeouf thriller, EAGLE-EYE, the repairing of Richard Gere and Diane Lane, NIGHT AT RODANTHE and the latest Spike Lee mess, I mean, joint, MIRACLE AT ST, ANNA. Meanwhile, BLINDNESS, CHOKE and THE LUCKY ONES are just a few of the indies hoping to find a place in the crowd. C’mon, Hollywood, spread the love!


Brazilian director, Fernando Meirelles has been sharpening his skills for quite some time now, literally. His 2003 international debut, CIDADE DE DEUS (CITY OF GOD) opens with quiet titles against a black backdrop and is suddenly interrupted by quick, bright inserts of a blade being sharpened. In the context of the film, the knife is to be used by a bunch of street punks to kill a chicken. As far as we’re concerned though, that knife is being sharpened to rip us apart because that is exactly what happens when you watch Meirelles work his magic on screen. The chicken, seemingly aware of her fate, escapes to see another day but escape is not so easy for those of us at home. Once Meirelles has you, there is no escape.

CITY OF GOD made people around the world stand up and take notice of this 53-year-old director. It was a stylistic revelation, both gritty and smooth. The blaring sunshine glistening against the soft Brazilian skin tones and bare sandy beaches is mesmerizing while watching street kids make all the wrong choices as though they had no others to make is nauseatingly disturbing. His ability to create a space that was both exquisite and exhilarating while still sparse and hollowing earned him international acclaim but it was his seamless blending of story and reality that earned him an unexpected but well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Director (and a Mouton d'Or in the same category). The story itself exposes the slum known as the City of God and the difficult struggle against a destiny of drugs and crime for every child that comes from there. Kids acting like gangsters is hard enough to deal with but even harder when some are not even acting. Meirelles cast actual street kids in some of the roles and found a way to use the experiences they survived to infuse performances from inexperienced players. The result is so real at times that you forget you’re watching a narrative film.

CITY OF GOD earned a total of four Academy Award nominations and once that had happened, Meirelles could choose any project he wanted. He chose the John Le Carre adaptation, THE CONSTANT GARDENER. Going from the slums of Brazil to A.I.D.S.-stricken villages in Africa seemed risky but promising. It was not so much Meirelles’ opportunity to solidify his position as a potential master director but rather a necessity that everyone wanted to see successfully met. Within moments, any doubt that he would be able to meet the challenge is washed away. THE CONSTANT GARDENER confirmed Meirelles’ uncanny ability to tell a story in a harsh environment while making it seem as though the action itself was unraveling amidst that environment, even with the inclusion of Hollywood actors like Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz (who went on to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress). It is also a brave account of government involvement in drug testing on what they consider to be the disposable population of Africa. As bleak as it sounds though, Meirelles weaves multiple levels of love and humanity into this complicated conspiracy thriller and gives value to lives that have been devalued and ignored for far too long.

His third project, BLINDNESS, seems like a natural enough progression. It is yet another critique on how horribly human beings can disregard the value of another person. The major difference is that Meirelles leaves his signature ability to recreate reality to tell a story that is entirely unreal. Based on Jose Saramago’s Portuguese novel, BLINDNESS imagines what the world would be like if humanity suddenly lost the ability to see. It is unexplained, incurable and downright unnerving. It is also unfortunately lacking compared to his previous efforts. Obvious plot holes lead to gaping questions that never go answered and for the first time, it feels as though Meirelles is making concessions instead of making a masterpiece. BLINDNESS stars Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo and Gael Garcia Bernal and follows them as they are all quarantined and cut off from the rest of the world. What happens in the quarantine is ugly and dirty and sadly not so far fetched. The style is still tops and the performances are unfaltering but it’s the loose ends that become BLINDNESS’s ultimate undoing. What is going on outside of the quarantine? Has blindness only affected this particular American city or is this a world wide epidemic? Why is it that if Moore’s character is unaffected that scientists are not studying her? While BLINDNESS is still well worth seeing, its lack of cohesive emotional impact makes you wish Meirelles had stayed with what he knows, how to be real and harsh while still staying true to hope. Instead, he turns a blind eye to what he knows isn’t working and we see right through it.

Despite a minor slip, there is no denying Meirelles’s calculated talent, unique vision and passion for humanity. Given his proximity to genius, if I were that chicken, I would have let him cut me up. No doubt I would have ended up as something infinitely more meaningful and served amidst chaos with the intent of bringing balance and peace to the table.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Tell me, what are you up to this weekend? Between you and me, I don't see a lot coming out worth spending your money on. I suppose you could watch Samuel L. Jackson terrorize Patrick Wilson in LAKEVIEW TERRACE. Or you could check out Dane Cook steal Kate Hudson from Jason Biggs in MY BEST FRIEND'S GIRL. C'mon though. Neither one of these movies, which are the best Hollywood has to offer this weekend, actually seems "must see", so why not put your money towards a good cause instead of a two hour waste of your time? How about you go see THE DARK KNIGHT again? It doesn't matter if you've already seen it twice already, this is important. THE DARK KNIGHT is currently running about $82 million below the grand total earned by current all-time box office champ, TITANIC. Sure that's a very large number but this is the only time in recent history that a film has come anywhere close to toppling that record and TITANIC needs to go down.

Now, let me ask you a question. Have you seen TITANIC recently? Time has not been kind. This is a film, that when released, struck such a chord with viewers that it shattered all notions of what a successful film could be. It was released just before Christmas, opened at number one with $28 million and stayed on top for a whopping 15 weeks. In the current box office climate, this would be impossible to accomplish. This is the era of the opening weekend. People need to see movies as early as possible so that they can chime in with their opinions before the following weekend when everyone starts talking about the next big thing. THE DARK KNIGHT opened with $158 million. For those of you who don't do math, that's $130 million more than TITANIC. You would think that would be plenty to overtake the king of the world but TITANIC was taking in more week on week by week four.

There is already talk of a DARK KNIGHT rerelease in IMAX theatres this January in order to generate buzz for potential Oscar nominations which could generate some decent business, maybe another $10 or $15 million. Should it earn those nominations and even go on to win a few actual awards, it could tack on another $20 million or so. That will not be enough. Batman needs your help! The campaign is officially on to sink the TITANIC and all you need to do to help is get out there and drop ten bucks to see a movie you know is going to rock.

It all comes down to this. What would you rather see as the all-time box office champ? A dated film with a story that is at times so cheesy it could be a bad movie of the week or a masterful revelation that has redefined the comic book genre? Give THE DARK KNIGHT the last laugh it most definitely deserves.

Box-Office Mojo (for a complete box-office comparison)

IGN (for the originating campaign and plea)

Sunday, September 14, 2008


In October of 2005, I published the first Black Sheep Review. It was for Tim Burton's THE CORPSE BRIDE and it was mostly favorable. I didn't know what I wanted from my life at that time. I knew I loved the movies. I knew I enjoyed forming opinions on them and that a lot of people I knew looked to me for advice on what they should or shouldn't see. So I thought, maybe the whole world would one day come to me for advice. I don't know if I've reached the whole world but I have reached people all around the world in the 200 posts that have followed that first one. Black Sheep Reviews has changed my life, given me focus and grown a passion for film I never knew could be so grand. It has also brought me to you and if for nothing else, that needs to be celebrated.

Over the course of the next four weeks, Black Sheep Reviews will be giving away two double run-of-engagement film passes every Wednesday. All you need to do is answer the question related to the film pass being given away via e-mail and one lucky winner will be chosen at random from the correct entries. Please send all e-mails to joseph@blacksheepreviews.com. (Please note that these passes are good only in Quebec.)

This week's films are BURN AFTER READING and LE BANQUET.

To win a double pass to LE BANQUET:

Sebastien Rose co-wrote LE BANQUET with another screenwriter. What is his name and what is his tie with Sebastien?

To win a double pass for BURN AFTER READING:

To which Coen brother is Frances McDormand married?

E-mail your responses to joseph@blacksheepreviews.com before Friday, September 19, at midnight and winners will be announced Saturday. Next week, two more passes will be given away so be sure to check back Wednesday morning.

Good luck and bon cinema!


An interview with actor/singer/songwriter, Jay Brannan

I first noticed Jay Brannan in John Cameron Mitchell’s controversial exploration of sex and love, SHORTBUS. He played Ceth, an aspiring musician who falls into the middle of a troubled relationship between two men named Jamie. His charm was winning, his smile was soft and his singing voice was soothing. I couldn’t help but fall in love with him right there and then.

I took to the internet, a place where Brannan has carved out a sizeable home for himself. His part in SHORTBUS led many people to his humble, self-made website. Brannan decided it was the right time to capitalize on his notoriety and did what he had to do to get himself into a studio to lay down as many tracks as he could afford. The tracks went up on iTunes and sold well enough over time to get Brannan the money he needed to record a full-length EP. “Goddamned” became available online this past July and immediately debuted in the Top 30. That’s pretty impressive for an unsigned independent.

Brannan is a new kind of artist. He is a modern success in every sense possible. He has utilized social networking sites like MySpace, YouTube and Facebook to the best of his advantage. Roles in films like SHORTBUS and the 2008 independent feature, HOLDING TREVOR, have raised his profile but it is his 21st century grassroots approach to self-marketing that has found him thousands of fans around the world, of which I am proud to count myself amongst.

I had the distinct pleasure of catching up with Brannan on the phone in New York the day before he left the country for his first European tour. I quickly found out that he is as multifaceted as his music.

Joseph Belanger: First off, I cannot start this without offering my congratulations. I love your album and I am a big fan. I will try not to gush throughout this interview.
Jay Brannan: Thank you.

Belanger: I know you’re busy right now but I have a few questions for you. Hopefully they aren’t too personal but I figured seeing as how your album is fairly personal, you wouldn’t mind.
Brannan: If they are, I’ll let you know.

Belanger: That sounds fair. I’ll just start by asking a bit about yourself. If you visit your website, one of the first things you read on the main page is a disclaimer you wrote claiming you’re not sure why anyone would want to know, see or hear anything about you. Yet, here we are having this interview. You’re about to go on a European tour. Clearly, people are interested in Jay Brannan. Has this sunk in?
Brannan: I can see that is happening now. It just really surprises me. I can’t imagine why anyone would care. I just like writing songs and playing them for people. I always feel really grateful when people show up at the shows or send me e-mails or buy the CD. It’s nice but it’s hard to believe that I’m playing shows around the world. People shout out and request songs by name or sing along. It is kind of shocking to my brain.

Belanger: Hopefully your humility will stay with you. I feel like your path to success is this modern, grassroots approach, which is suitable considering you’re a self-professed folk singer. How did you make this all work?
Brannan: Obviously, the era plays a huge part in this. I would be nothing if it weren’t for MySpace and YouTube. Even just my own website was constructed with some templates and HTML stuff but there’s a mailing list and all of this has been completely invaluable for me. Of course, being in SHORTBUS, was a big part. It was distributed around the world and being in that film as well as having a song in the film and on the soundtrack was the equivalent of going on a world tour without actually having to leave New York. Once the film was released, it just drove all this traffic to these sites where I just tried to maintain activity, keep putting music out. It was like all of a sudden I had 2000 MySpace messages.

Belanger: SHORTBUS received a mixed reaction when it was released. Given its highly sexualized nature, it cannot help but be the kind of film that polarizes people. Despite that, it certainly left its mark and we’re still talking about it now. What was it like being a part of that unique experience?
Brannan: Being a part of SHORTBUS was one of the most meaningful things I’ve ever done. It was an incredible experience, just a personal and a creative level, without looking at the professional opportunities it brought to me. We worked on the film for two and a half years. The actors were cast before there was even a script. The thinking was that actors could be more comfortable taking risks like this, like having explicit sex on screen, if they had a hand in creating the characters, the plot, the script. We all became very close and I made some amazing friends. I’m very proud of how the film turned out. I feel like it has this greater cultural purpose.

Belanger: The SHORTBUS DVD actually goes into great detail about the process you’re describing. It sounds like it was much more of a communal effort rather than just something where you sign a contract, show up, shoot and go home.
Brannan: It was an actor’s dream. I actually moved out to L.A. to be an actor but ended up quitting just because it is as miserable as everyone says. Once this film came along, it was more about the project itself and it ended up actually being more about what I genuinely liked about acting in the first place. John [Cameron Mitchell], the director, was very good at creating a warm, validating environment. It was like work and play were the same thing. It was just fun and creative and experimental and you don’t often get a lot of that.

Belanger: You mentioned that you had pretty much quit acting but now you’re in another film called, HOLDING TREVOR. Do you think that you might end up doing more acting as your career progresses.
Brannan: I definitely have an interest in doing more acting but it’s just a little more difficult to do on your own. Filmmaking is so much more collaborative than music some times. I can write a song in the middle of the night in my apartment and throw it up online. While with film, you need a director and all these people to hire you and buy into you. With music, I can spearhead it myself. HOLDING TREVOR came from because my best friend in L.A., [Brent Gorski], had written a script for us to do together. It was an interesting project that I could make with friends. We had absolutely no money to make the film. It was the director’s first feature and she was willing to give this a shot on a budget that is basically barely enough to make a bad music video. It was just something that came along that would be fun and a way to make art with friends.

Belanger: Clearly, being true to your art is important to you. Your first full-length album, GODDAMNED, was just released last month. It is a very intimate experience. I thought we might chat about a few of the songs specifically in order to get to you the man behind the music. In “Half-Boyfriend” you sing, “You’re the pill I never wanted to take, my anti-misanthrope.” Does Jay Brannan resist love and happiness or is that no one worth it has convinced you of otherwise?
Brannan: It’s a little bit of both. I probably do resist happiness to a certain extent because the opposite of that is my comfort zone; it’s what I’m used to. At the same time, I don’t feel like I’m making any of this up. I’ve always been an angsty, sad person. That’s just who I am and there are a lot of reason for that. Part of it might be some sort of chemical imbalance, I guess. People always ask why I’m so sad or why I’m so angry and I just want to shake them as k why they aren’t sad. Look around at this world and what’s going on. The truth is I walk around every day feeling the pain of the world. All these horrible things, they’re so frustrating. The world is the way it is and I’m just affected by that.

Belanger: The title track, “Goddamned” exhibits a certain bravery and honesty in your lyricism that is refreshing but also somewhat abrasive. Do you always say exactly what you’re thinking?
Brannan (Laughing): Most of the time, yeah. I’m a pretty honest person. I have a concept of appropriate vs. inappropriate circumstances – when to keep my mouth shut. Just because I’m feeling a certain thing doesn’t mean it is necessarily the right thing to say. I don’t want to hurt other people or cause problems. I’m not always the best at it, like I’ve been fired from jobs before for being too honest in a professional setting. When it’s appropriate, like in a lyrical context, and I’m not going to hurt someone unnecessarily, I’m honest because sometimes you’ve just got to tell the truth regardless of the consequences. I’m actually really not good at the opposite, hiding things or keeping them to myself. It just builds up and makes me crazy.

Belanger: The song, “Can’t Have It All”, asks, “Do you want a lover or do you want a life?” Is it too simplistic to say that we can’t have it all?
Brannan: I would like to believe that we can but I think all evidence points to the contrary. I think some people can have it all but I don’t think we all can, particularly in the way of love. For some reason, we’ve all been taught that everyone has a soul mate, then you look around and see how many people don’t. All these people who live out their lives alone or die alone; it just happens.

Belanger: So then, is it too simplistic to say that Jay Brannan is a pessimist?
Brannan (laughing): Actually, I would say that’s pretty accurate.

For a pessimist, he’s a pretty lovable guy. Brannan is stopping in Toronto (September 19) and Montreal (September 20) before heading back out to Europe to continue his successful trek. If he isn’t careful, he might wake up one morning to realize he’s closer than he’s ever been to actually having it all.

For ticket information or to buy a copy of "Goddamned", please visit jaybrannan.com

WEEKEND BOX OFFICE: The Coens Burn 'Em All

So I didn’t bother with the box office report last weekend. It’s not like anyone bothered going to the movies last weekend either so no big deal. With four major wide releases all pulling in above $10 million to secure the top four spots, the fall box office is back and up and running. There were even a few surprises amongst the fall colours to keep people guessing and I’m not referring to Nicolas Cage’s BANGKOK DANGEROUS plummeting nearly 70% in its second week after barely making anything in first place last week. That wasn’t the least bit surprising.

First of all, the Coen brothers must most definitely be surprised as they find themselves debuting at number one for the first time with BURN AFTER READING. The Coens’s films do not ordinarily open wide. In fact, after THE BIG LEBOWSKI, THE LADYKILLERS and INTOLERABLE CRUELTY, BURN AFTER READING is only the fourth Coen brother film to open wide right away and it is certainly the first to debut on top with such robust numbers. Of all the major releases this week, this was the only picture to garner critical support. That, in combination with the immensely marketable cast and the buzz they earned with their Oscar win for last year’s NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, gave the Coens exactly what they needed to finally convince the masses that they can make movies for them too.

Although it wouldn’t be the first time, Tyler Perry might have been surprised to find his latest, TYLER PERRY’S THE FAMILY THAT PREYS settling for second. Almost all of Perry’s previous offerings have surpassed expectations at the box office to the point where racking up $18 million seems below standard practically. Still, the film generated the highest per screen average of any film in the Top 10 and only came up a couple of million shy of this spring’s MEET THE BROWNS.

The good people at Overture must be surprised. After all, how could a picture that boasts the two greatest actors of our generation for the first time together on screen – apparently the marketing folks have conveniently forgotten HEAT – open below a quirky comedy and a movie with a marginalized audience. RIGHTEOUS KILL, starring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, opened wider than any other film and only managed an average of $5K. It may be modest but it is by no means an embarrassing gross for an opening weekend – that is unless your film stars Pacino AND De Niro. Yes, I’m sure the folks at Overture are still shaking their heads.

Let’s not forget the ladies even though they conveniently forget the men. Diane English’s remake of the 30’s classic, THE WOMEN features Annette Bening, Meg Ryan, Eva Mendes, Jada Pinkett Smith, Debra Messing and not a single man. That’s right. There are no men to be found in this picture – even if one of the women is walking down a busy New York street. Though the film battled scathing reviews to muster a $10 million dollar debut, I’m sure English was surprised the take was not bigger. After female-skewed hits like SEX AND THE CITY and MAMMA MIA! performed so well, PictureHouse was hoping to capitalize on the trend. Those films were hits because they reached past their core markets and brought in unexpected male audiences though. Maybe it’s because they actually had guys in them.

The final surprise this week is for Alan Ball. The Academy Award winning screenwriter of AMERICAN BEAUTY and creator of HBO’s “Six Feet Under” made his directorial debut this week to mixed reviews and polarized controversy with TOWELHEAD. The film, in which an Arab-American girl struggles with a sexual obsession, scored an impressive average of over $13K on just four screens and secured its expansion.

NEXT WEEK: It is another busy week for Hollywood next week, except with less high profile bows. Still another four wide releases will hit. GHOST TOWN finds Ricky Gervais seeing dead people. John Cusack gets animated in IGOR. Samuel L. Jackson makes trouble for neighbour, Patrick Wilson, in LAKEVIEW TERRACE. And Dane Cook steals Kate Hudson from Jason Biggs in MY BEST FRIEND’S GIRL. This is the widest of the four releases. You’d think we cared or something.