Thursday, December 31, 2009

Black Sheep's Top 10 of 2009

I sit before my computer on the last day of 2009. In a matter of hours, there will be so much going on that I will not be able find two minutes together to accomplish anything really so it's best that I get this done now, when I can give it the attention it truly deserves. 2009 was a great year for me and the movies. Early on in the year, I began publishing a regular monthly column on The Movie Network's "Movie Entertainment" magazine's website and it has since been picked up by The Movie Network itself. In April, I attended the Tribeca Film Festival for the first time and ended up meeting and interviewing one of my favorite director's, Steven Soderbergh. My interview with him about THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE would go on to be published on CBC's website. In May, I left my day job and prepared to move to Toronto, which I did in July. The summer was a great time to be unemployed and I managed to sustain myself on zero incoming cash until just after the Toronto International Film Festival. This year, I saw nearly 20 films at the festival, compared to a scant five the year before. I also had the chance to sit and interview the star and director of this year's indie success, PRECIOUS. I have had to return to working my day job now but 2010 awaits and I'm closer now than ever before.

Alright, so that's me. Now what about the movies? I knew all year that I was going to be leaving my day job at some point so I was able to get excited about a lot of the movies that were coming out this year. And a lot of them did not disappoint. As per usual, my full list of best performances and films will be coming soon with the announcement of the Mouton d'Or awards in January but the following is my Top 10 films of 2009, in alphabetical order. Even as I write these very words to you, I have a short list of eleven titles and I'm still not sure what will make it and what won't. The suspense is killing me! Anyway, here goes ... (click on any title for the full Black Sheep review)

Directed by Marc Webb

I've seen this film three times and it makes me smile and feel good about everything every time. This anti-love story is so infectious and so enchanting that it somehow ignites my personal quest for love while simultaneously breaking down all the myths about love I've subscribed to all these years. The adorable Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel are the cutest couple of the year!

Directed by Neil Blomkamp

When I first saw this film, I was floored. It was original; it was exciting; I was completely convinced that South Africa had been overrun with alien life. It isn't every day that you catch a film that is visually remarkable, action packed and socially conscious at the same time with absolutely no trace of compromise. I was also pretty floored because the moment it ended, I knew it was going to find its way on this list.

Directed by Lone Scherfig

This film was the toast of TIFF and I could not get in no matter how hard I tried. It was well worth the wait. Its classic style and subtle screenplay brought new perspective to the feminist plight. Star, Carey Mulligan carries the ecstasy of a first love with the jubilance of a little girl and the weight of the consequences to dating an older man with grace and restraint. I for one definitely felt like I learnt something.

Directed by Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson is a particular taste and I was thrilled to see that taste make a successful transition into the realm of animation. Watching this adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic is a constant delight. It truly digs its own path, striking the perfect balance between adult insight and childlike excitement throughout. In a world where Pixar owns the monopoly on satisfying adult animation (and rightfully so), it is refreshing to see that others out there can not only pull it off too but bring something new as well.

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

By now, you've no doubt seen this film on every Top 10 list in the world. It is an obvious choice but it is also the right choice. Bigelow managed to craft a highly explosive film about trying to make sure bombs don't go off. The film is naturally tense but all the more so because Bigelow sneaks us into this military bomb squad in Iraq by shooting from as many different perspectives as possible. Perhaps this is why it is the least judgmental Iraq war film to date.

Directed by Lee Daniels

From a filmmaking perspective, this one is certainly uneven at times but its boldness is so striking that it certainly earns its place amongst the best of the year. This story of a young woman, overweight, pregnant, illiterate and abused, is the most unlikely of success stories. It is fueled by some of the most brave performances of the year from one of the most eclectic casts of the year. It is Daniels though who deserves the biggest applause here for getting people to stop ignoring this girl and see her for who she is inside.

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Who knew that the Coen Brothers could get so personal and still feel completely disassociated? Michael Stuhlbarg's incredible performance as Larry Gopnick allows this tale of misfortune to transcend its Jewish roots and become a tale for unlucky folks everywhere. Watching his life is like watching a train wreck just get worse and worse but somehow all the while, thanks to that special Coen touch, deep, genuine sympathy is inspired aplenty.

Directed by Cory Fukunaga

I cannot say enough good things about this first feature from Cory Fukunaga. Two complete strangers end up on the same journey to cross the Mexican border into the United States and neither their lives nor ours are the same for having the experience. Each of their characters is going through their own individual struggles but the solace they find in each other makes every hardship they suffer worth it. Fukunaga is a bold new voice.

Directed by Tom Ford

Fashion designer, Tom Ford's directorial debut, is just plain stunning. It's 1960's design is authentic and exquisite and the performances from Colin Firth and Julianne Moore are fresh and exciting for each of them. By adapting Christopher Isherwood's novel of the same name about a man coping with the death of his longtime lover in a world that doesn't acknowledge that love, Ford has made more than a film; he has also made a very compelling argument for gay marriage and the rights that should be afforded gay men and women everywhere. And naturally, he did it in style.

Directed by Jason Reitman

Films that are decidedly adult in theme and tone have struggled recently to connect with audiences but this one is so perfectly executed that it is not only reaching its audience but going far beyond it. The zeitgeist factors in this film, from the crumbling economic backdrop to the increasingly guarded approach towards love and human interaction, make it easy for most to identify with it. The entire cast (George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick) is lovely; the tone is respectful; and thanks to Reitman, the whole thing soars.

Directed by Steve McQueen

OK, so I found a way to cheat the Top 10. Don't hate on me. I did not include this film in the actual Top 10 as it is considered a 2008 entry but as it did not play in Canada until this year, it warrants mentioning. This 2008 festival favorite went unnoticed in North American cinemas this past spring but that doesn't shock me. Hunger strikes and graphic prison violence are not exactly crowd pleasers. If you are up for it, you must see this film. It will turn your stomach but it will furiously turn the wheels of your mind as well.

There you have it folks. These were my favorite films from 2009. Here is to an excellent 2010!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Black Sheep @ The Box Office: Merry Christmas, Hollywood.

Well, I'm full. I had plenty to eat over the last few days and food exhaustion may be the reason for my late report but I wasn't the only one who ingested a lot this weekend. Moviergoers ate up almost everything Hollywood was serving at the box office for the year's last full frame. Christmas Day has been a launching pad for a variety of fare over the years but this year it fell on a Friday and got a very big present - the biggest Christmas Day opening in history.

SHERLOCK HOLMES may have missed out on the weekend crown - an achievement claimed by AVATAR in its second weekend - but, with $24.8 million on Christmas Day alone, it easily surpassed former champ, MEET THE FOCKERS ($19.5 million), to become the best Christmas Day opening of all time. AVATAR also passed MEET THE FOCKERS, with $23.6 million, which is not bad at all for a film in its second week. SHERLOCK HOLMES ultimately brought in $65.4 million all weekend for a stellar wide per screen average of $18K. I can think of one person who just had the best Christmas of their lives - once-promising director, Guy Ritchie now has his first actual hit. And come to think of it, once washed up actor, Robert Downey Jr., now has two bonafide franchises on his hands. Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la, indeed.

James Cameron's AVATAR finished the weekend with $75 million, off only 2.6% from last week. It has already pulled in over $600 million internationally and it's success has naturally sprung talk of a sequel. I implore you, Mr. Cameron, leave this film alone. Take your wonderful technology and incredible imagination and create another great new thing. The point of AVATAR was to create something no one had ever seen and a sequel would inherently defeat that purpose. I'm asking nicely.

Speaking of sequels, ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: THE SQUEAKEQUEL (sp?), opened in third place after dethroning AVATAR on it's early Wednesday release. When the first film came out, I was floored that anyone wanted to see it but then it was huge. It brought in $44 million opening weekend, a couple of weeks before Christmas, and went on to make $212 million in North America. So this time, I was ready for it. The question wasn't whether it would do well; it was whether it would do better than the first. And I'm sad to say it did. On Wednesday, it brought in $18 million and it would finish its five day run with $77 million, $28 million more than the first made in five-days. Good job, people. I applaud you.

Opening in fourth place, the Nancy Meyers comedy, IT'S COMPLICATED. Comparatively, the opening is modest, pulling in a near $8K average on almost 2900 screens. It is still a strong opening for an R-rated adult comedy and Meyer's second largest December opening, after the Mel Gibson hit, WHAT WOMEN WANT. Not to sound too sexist but I'm thinking that Meryl Streep's biggest fans, people like my mom, were probably busy with holiday stuff this weekend so movies might not have been their priority. Good word of mouth should carry this one well into the new year.

That said, I actually did go to a movie with my mom this Christmas. My holiday movie this year was Rob Marshall's NINE. It was my second viewing and my mom's first (she loved it!). I was disappointed on first viewing and wanted to like it more. I did definitely enjoy it more on second viewing but people were less than enthused about making it their holiday movie. Yes, NINE increased its gross over 2000% this week but it could barely muster a $4K per screen average on 1400 screens. A film with this pedigree and this kind of push should have been much bigger. Oscar chances for the incredible cast and film were on the rise in the last week but the lack of audience support has definitely set them back.

Outside of that, most films in the Top 10 saw slight declines this week - except oddly enough for Disney's A CHRISTMAS CAROL, which plummeted by 60%. I guess the movies are a place to escape Christmas, not celebrate it further. THE BLIND SIDE and INVICTUS saw modest increases well into their runs, proving inspiration goes well with turkey and stuffing. And Oscar hopeful, fan favorite and critic's choice, UP IN THE AIR, expanded to over 1800 screens and saw a healthy 266% increase for a slot in the Top 5.

Outside the Top 10, Heath Ledger's last screen performance, one that was not completed and was filled in by Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Ferrell, THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS, was attended by Terry Gilliam fans everywhere, pulling in an average of $32K on 4 screens. Personally, I'm avoiding the film. I realized that I would rather leave my last memory of Ledger as THE DARK KNIGHT. There was plenty of holiday cheer actually for platform expansions. Jean-Marc Vallee's THE YOUNG VICTORIA added 143 screens for a 277% increase; Pedro Almodovar's BROKEN EMBRACES added 41 screens and improved over 75%; Tom Ford's A SINGLE MAN added 37 screens and improved over 120%; and CRAZY HEART, starring Oscar hopeful, Jeff Bridges, tacked on 8 screens and saw an 88% increase.

NEXT WEEK: Nothing; I got nothing. That's because there is nothing coming out next week. Hollywood is done with 2009. The only release is a limited one on Wednesday - Austrian director, Michael Haneke's critical darling, THE WHITE RIBBON, bows in New York and L.A. in order to qualify for the Oscars. The box office report will not appear next weekend, in this form that is. I will be looking back at 2009 as a whole and breaking it down into winners and losers. Good times.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Written and Directed by Nancy Meyers
Starring Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin and John Krasinski

Jake: You know what they say, people in nursing homes with plants live longer than people without."

The title says it all. IT’S COMPLICATED, alright. The sad part is it isn’t nearly as complicated as these folks make it out to be. I concede that starting an affair with your ex-husband after he is remarried to the younger woman that broke up your own marriage would definitely qualify as complicated. I also agree that hiding that affair from your kids and the guy you just started dating makes it even worse. Just don’t ask me to feel bad for you though because it is only as complicated as you allow it to be.

Writer/Director Nancy Meyers knows what movie audiences want around the holidays. Her previous works (WHAT WOMEN WANT and SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE, to name a couple) have been big holiday hits and IT’S COMPLICATED will be no different. Albeit sometimes forced, it is actually quite funny at times. Meryl Streep plays Jane, a 50-something single woman whose kids have all left her very costly nest and who finds herself alone for the first time in her life. It isn’t long before her neurosis and several bottles of wine find her in bed with her ex (Alec Baldwin). The twosome are such talented actors that going along with all their antics often not only leads to hilarity but also character and insight, a rarity in safe fare like this. And let me just say that Streep should get stoned in all of her movies from now on. That woman is downright silly sometimes.

To get complicated, things need to get dirty first and IT’S COMPLICATED is far too clean to qualify. It’s like Hollywood’s take on the kinds of desperate scenarios indie film characters find themselves in. As they sit amidst all their perfect privilege and wealth though, their woes only come across as whiny. Funny, sure, but self-indulgent too.


Written by Michael Tolkin and Anthony Minghella
Directed by Rob Marshall
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman, Kate Hudson, Fergie and Sophia Loren

Journalist: What I am asking, Maestro, is have you run out of things to say?

I don’t think NINE could look better on paper if it tried. You’ve got Michael Tolkin, the author of “The Player”, and the late, great Anthony Minghella translating a Broadway classic to the screen, that has even deeper roots as the show itself was based of Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2. You’ve got Rob Marshall in the director’s chair. This is the man who reinvigorated the movie musical right when it was on the very brink of extinction with the Oscar-winning, CHICAGO, after all. You’ve got a cast of women unlike anything I’ve seen on film before – Marion Cotillard! Penelope Cruz! Nicole Kidman! Judi Dench! Kate Hudson! Fergie! Sophie Loren, for Pete’s sake! And who do you have at the center of all these ladies? Why none other than the genius of the day, Daniel Day-Lewis. How then could all of the excitement that this incredible pedigree inspires be completely missing from the final cut?

The problem might be the show itself. Day-Lewis is Guido Contini, Italy’s most exciting internationally recognized director. Well, he used to be. As of late, his films haven’t been connecting with audiences like they used to. We meet him amidst a flurry of press for his latest project and we quickly realize that he’s got no movie to make. Before long, we are introduced to his wife (Cotillard), his mistress (Cruz), his mother (Loren), his muse (Kidman) and his creative rock (Dench). It isn’t long after that that you realize juggling all these women in his life and ultimately trying t control them like he does his films is making it impossible for him to breathe. The women aren’t smothering him though. He is doing that all to himself by failing to see them all as actual people instead of supporting players in his own life. An unsympathetic egomaniac does not rally an audience.

It is even more troubling to me though that Marshall’s direction never allows for these lovely ladies to elevate past supporting players either. It’s ironic really to watch a movie about a blocked director directed without the inspiration to make it as great as it so clearly could be. Each woman in the cast gets to sing their song one by one and each one sings of how their lives have been changed by Contini, be that good or bad. As we never get to see these characters for who they are but rather just through the eyes of Contini himself, the hurt they sing about it isn’t connected to anything real. That said, neither are the musical numbers themselves. They all look and sound fantastic and, not to mislead, are pretty enjoyable too. They just keep coming in such an expected fashion that they lack the spontaneity necessary to make them truly pop.

Like CHICAGO, Marshall wants the musical numbers to feel like a surreal layer to the characters’ live. They seem to be happening in their minds but you never feel like you’ve actually been in anyone’s head. Anyone, that is, except for Contini. Every song and every scene is about him and while Day-Lewis does a perfectly fine job losing his way, he never quite finds it either. Although history is given to suggest where his troubles may have started, his woes never amount past the point of self-indulgence and subsequently NINE never becomes the masterpiece it should have. Instead, this fascinating dissection of one man’s mind never gets deep enough to entertain past the surface.

Black Sheep's Top Albums of 2009

Merry Christmas, Black Sheep readers. I wish you all a safe and happy holiday season and much prosperity in the new year. Every year at this time, I take a quick break from movies (very quick, trust me - I'll be back in the theatres on Christmas Day) and take a look at my favorite albums of the year. Music has always been my first love but I don't usually write about it because I find it exponentially harder to pinpoint just what it is I love about it and then put that into words. No offense to movies, of course. Still, just in time for the holidays - and just in time for any last minute shoppers looking for a quick stocking stuffer - I have compiled a list of albums that have stayed with me from the moment I first listened to them until today. Each one is there for a different reason and they certainly are an eclectic bunch. The one thing they share in common though is my deep appreciation for them. This year would not have been everything it was without them. They are ... in the order in which they are listed in my iTunes library ...

BON IVER - For Emma, Forever Ago

I can't believe I'm cheating on my first selection. This album was actually released in 2008. To be fair though, it was the first album I bought this year. I think maybe I bought it on the first even. It came recommended and rightfully so. I don't pretend to understand everything this eccentric singer sings about but his creativity is so vast that I have been in awe of it ever since I first listened to it. It is mostly quiet but aggressive when it should be and whenever I think back to the brief few days in January where I got to sit on a beach in Mexico, I will think of "For Emma, Forever Ago". This beautiful album and the sounds of the waves in the background was like heaven to me.


I have not yet figured out how to fully wrap my head around the incredible artistry of this breakout album. I'm not sure why it's called "Lungs" but it takes the breath right out of you when you hear it. It's a rock/blues party and lead singer, Florence's incredible voice just sends you to places you didn't know existed. You can hear Natalie Merchant or Sarah McLachlan in the layers of her voice but she brings a flavour all her own that just makes it near impossible for you not to belt away with her. Past that, the music itself is so jubilant at times, so dark at others and always played with such incredible urgency. You don't know where you've been when you finish listening but you know you want to go back.

KELLY CLARKSON - All I Ever Wanted

In my entire lifetime, I think I have seen one full episode of "American Idol". I was not there for the initial rise of Kelly Clarkson. I was there for her global explosion though. And, sadly, I was also there to watch her plummet from the pop consciousness. "All I Ever Wanted" is a near-perfect return to fame. Decidedly more pop than her previous foray into rock, Clarkson seems completely in control and completely aware of how much she is being controlled. The cover is so sugary but the expression on her face almost suggests she knows how bad it is. This is what she's being forced to do, people. The music though is where she shines. Yes it's pop but it's also damn good pop.

LA ROUX - La Roux

The moment the very first beats of "In for the Kill", the first song on British hipster, La Roux's eponymous debut start, she does exactly what the chorus promises. She's going in for the kill; she's doing it for the thrill. She's hoping you'll understand and not let go of her hand. Trust me; you wont. La Roux's voice is this tweaked out girlier Enya-esque experience, only it's all natural; no voice layering here. It just resonates and carries you with it. And with beats as danceable as these, "La Roux" is one of the most listenable and easily enjoyable albums of the year.

LILY ALLEN - It's Not Me, It's You Me

I must have missed the Lily Allen boat. "It's Not Me, It's You" is not her first album but it is certainly the first I ever heard. I like this girl's spunk! The way she tears down her men is appalling at times but her voice is just so British and cheeky that you can't help but love her all the more for her attitude. When she is not complaining about the boys, she is going off about how everybody is on drugs or about whether Jesus is thin or financially secure. Essentially, she is singing about how everyone and everything sucks on top of bouncy beats. Her directness is refreshing, especially when it is served on top of such a pop bed.

MARIAH CAREY - Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel

Ok, so I'm a big Mariah fan. That doesn't mean I always love her albums. And I wouldn't push this one on you if I didn't think it was one of her best. They say the album is dead but "Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel" proves that theory wrong. Sure, it has a super lame title; I've come to expect these things from Mariah. That said, I don't think she has ever released an album this consistent in both tone and temperature. Lyrically, she is having a lot of fun wrapping that voice around plenty of what can only be called Mariah-ism's ("He's all up in my George Foreman," comes to mind). Vocally, she couldn't be in better shape and I heard colours in there that I feel like I never have before. I was turned off on the first listen but I think that was more shock than anything else. Definitely imperfect but also definitely angelic.

PIERRE LAPOINTE - Sentiments humains

J'adore Pierre Lapointe. Il est tellement ... hot! I can easily say that "Sentiments humains" is Lapointe's best work to date. This is saying alot considering how incredible and diverse his previous two albums were. With this one, he strikes the perfect balance between all his influences - French folk, electronic, rock, classical, musical theatre, opera and of course, pop. His passion is so moving, so engaging that I've actually seen people tear while listening to it. Yes, it is dramatic but it is deservedly so. He earns every indulgence because he delivers consistently with his perfectly trained and perfectly pitched voice and his beautiful, delicate poetry. Encore, Pierre, je vous adore.


I had heard of Regina Spektor before this year but never really came upon her music. Then this year, two of her songs from years past were prominently featured in (500) DAYS OF SUMMER, which you probably know, I loved. Then I saw her on "Saturday Night Live", singing the song "Eet" off her latest album, "Far". She was just this tiny little thing with thick black hair, sitting at a big ol' piano and losing it on this song. She sang it perfectly but the sounds coming out of her mouth were like nothing I've ever heard before. They were primal. She sat there at that piano in New York City, reached through my television and grabbed onto my soul with her passionate performance. I've got all of her albums now.


I had the distinct pleasure of seeing The Swell Season a little while back when they were touring to support the music from the film, ONCE. True artistry and genuine emotion was what I saw on that stage. Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, the lead vocalists, are such tender and appreciative people and all of their warmth emanates from the music they create together. They are no longer romantically linked but you can still feel their strength and bond in their music. Past that, it was a great relief to see that songwriter, Hansard, had more to him than what he showcased in the movie that brought them to fame. "Strict Joy" is insightful, personal and set to a perfectly melodic acoustic backdrop.


This last album is completely unexpected for me. I used to listen to The Tragically Hip back when I was in college. My friends really liked them and so I bought into it but I never really got into it as much as they and so many others did. Suffice it to say, I stopped listening to them ages ago. With "We Are the Same", The Tragically Hip have matured ... or maybe I have. Lead singer, Gord Downie seems to be more direct than I remember him. He challenges his listeners with his lyrics and genuinely feels as though he has great sympathy for anyone who can relate to what he's singing about without being the least bit pitiful. It's still Canadian rock but it is also a very welcome return.

And seeing as how it isn't really an album, I just want to give a quick shout out to Lady Gaga's EP, THE FAME MONSTER. Released as an accompaniment to her crazy huge debut album, THE FAME, this EP showcases just how far a pop star can go in a very short time. Most of her work here is so much bigger, so much more brave that it makes her catchy hit singles from the last year seem miniscule and safe in comparison. I'm not sold on her intentions yet but I respect her artistry and her courage to be so different in a world that rewards conformity - the pop world, that is.

Thank you for indulging my musical musings. Feel free to share some of your favorite albums from the last year too. I would love to know. Be sure to check Black Sheep throughout the holidays for plenty more film reviews to come. Don't eat too much and don't drink and drive. Be good to each other and to yourself. Season's Greetings ...

Sheldon's Holiday Gift Guide

In the last few weeks, Black Sheep has been making gift suggestions for the film lovers in your life in the interest of making your lives easier. We've been looking at first run releases, catalog releases and throwing in helpful suggestions of what I want, I mean, what Sheldon the Sheep wants under his tree. With a few days left before the big day, you are in luck. There are three great releases out today and you'll never guess what ... Sheldon wants all three of them!

I was fortunate enough to catch this delightful indie date flick twice in theatres. One of those occasions was even a on a date! The BD release contains a bunch of deleted and extended scenes as well some of the days of summer that we didn't see in theatres. It even contains an online piece stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel put together to promote the film where they reenacted a scene as Sid & Nancy, where Gordon-Levitt was Nancy! This romantic comedy is fresh and uplifiting. It is perfect for a warm night by the fire with someone you love.

It's been years but I have still not tired of the insane antics of the FAMILY GUY. Now, parents, this is a great gift for your teenagers. The chances are they love FAMILY GUY and this second installment of the STAR WARS spoof series has never aired on television. It runs about 45 minutes long and as it comes out just a few days before Christmas, the chances are that your kids won't have seen it by the time they open their stockings. Their first installment was hilarious so my hopes are high for this one.

Although I have not yet made my top 10 list for 2009, I would be surprised not to see DISTRICT 9 on it. This film floored me when I saw it. It was so well thought out, so insightful and just so darn unexpected at every turn, I genuinely felt like I was transported to an alternate reality when I watched it. As far as a gift goes, this has the IT factor and would make a great gift for any guy who has a little bit of a sci-fi geek in him, no matter how small. I hope this film gets some unexpected awards love this year.

Happy shopping, folks! Good luck getting out of there uninjured.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Black Sheep @ The Box Office: Avatar Goes Far!

There are two major points to discuss this week when it comes to the box office. The first is that giant blue movie, AVATAR. Studios avoided pitting anything against the anticipated juggernaut, except for a feeble and unsuccessful attempt on Sony's part to counterprogram with DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE MORGANS? (The answer to that question, by the way, is no, no one has apparently heard of them.) AVATAR may not have done the business they were expecting but it was still certainly an event. I caught the film on Saturday morning and as the theatre had not opened yet, there were lines of people around the block waiting to get in. The IMAX screenings were sold out for the day but yet the people were still pouring in to the lobby in hopes of a miracle. Fox insists that AVATAR would have grossed even more if it weren't for the snow storms in the North East of the country and they are probably right. Despite the excuses though, AVATAR still made over $70 million, an average of over $21K per theatre, and with the holidays and inevitably good word of mouth to follow, it will certainly go on to justify its own hype.

The other story at the box office this week is the influence of the Golden Globes, if there is any such thing. AVATAR itself scored a Best Picture nod but I doubt that had any influence on anyone's decision to see it. Fellow Best Picture nominee, UP IN THE AIR continued its successful expansion, going from 72 to 175 screens and seeing its gross increase by nearly 30%. The film goes wide on Wednesday, hitting 1800 screens, and looks poised to be a holiday favorite. Another Best Picture nominee, Rob Marshall's star-studded musical, NINE, platformed on 4 screens this week before going wide next Friday. The result was an impressive $62K per screen average. Reviews are mixed though so it should be interesting to see if audiences find it amidst the busy frame. Tom Ford's A SINGLE MAN, nominated for Best Actor (Colin Firth) and Best Supporting Actress (Julianne Moore), dropped off by 36% this week but still managed a healthy $15K average before its wide expansion next week. Troubling figures came in for Peter Jackson's THE LOVELY BONES. The film has not been seeing much awards love and dropped off over 60% in its second frame. It too goes wider next weekend. Two other actor nominees, Emily Blunt in THE YOUNG VICTORIA and Jeff Bridges in CRAZY HEART made their debuts. Bridges fared better with an average of $21K on four screens and Blunt pulled in a decent $7.4K on 20 screens. And finally, PRECIOUS expanded past its 664 screen count where it had stalled a couple weeks back to hit over 1000 screens. The Best Picture nominee still dropped off 12% though, signaling that its once bright hopes for Oscar gold are dwindling.

NEXT WEEK: It's Christmas! This means big titles and small chipmunks apparently. ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: THE SQUEAKUEL opens on over 3700 screens on Wednesday, hoping to duplicate the success of the original. Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin hit 2800 screens with their Golden Globe nominated comedy, IT'S COMPLICATED. And Guy Ritchie's remake of SHERLOCK HOLMES, starring Robert Downey Jr, will hit more than 3600 screens. There will be plenty of presents under Hollywood's tree this year.

Source: Box Office Mojo

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Written and Directed by James Cameron
Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Michelle Rodriguez and Sigourney Weaver

Jake Sully: I see you.

And here we are. The day has finally arrived. It only took about ten years but James Cameron’s labour of a lot of love, AVATAR, has finally been revealed to a world that has been desperately waiting for it. You’d think it were the second coming from the way people have been lining up for tickets or even from the way in which the film has been marketed. Supposedly, it will change the way we see movies. I haven’t seen a “normal” movie since watching AVATAR earlier today so I can’t fully test that theory but I can see where they’re going with it. AVATAR is nothing if not inventive and expansive. It is certainly unlike anything I’ve seen before but I’m not necessarily clamoring to see it again and again.

I should mention that I’m something of a purist. I am a great lover of cinema but I’m not always able to get on board with drastic change right away. AVATAR presents great possibility for the future of cinema. 3D technology has never been applied to live-action footage (if we can really call this live-action, considering only 40% is real footage and the rest is CG) as extensively as it has been here. My concern is that it could always end up gimmicky instead of relevant. Cameron infuses 3D into AVATAR with such delicate care though that every image becomes an interactive experience. At times, it is as if he is speaking directly to the audience with a visual language that is as original as the planet Pandora, where all of this movie magic takes place. The visual impact is staggering but it is the manner in which the audience is involved in the picture that will make AVATAR memorable.

Now, if Cameron had spent as much time fleshing out his story and characters as he did on the look of the film, he might have a masterpiece on his hands. The film’s failings are not so bad that they detract from the overall enjoyment factor but with a near three-hour run time, I found myself facing them more often than I would have liked to. If it weren’t for the technological advancements, AVATAR would be nothing more than a really long commercial for going green. None too surprisingly, mankind (or maybe just the Americans as they are the only people around) messes up Earth pretty bad in the future and needs to go elsewhere to pillage for natural resources. Pandora is a highly volatile environment and its inhabitants are deeply spiritual, have a profound connection to their planet and subsequently are completely misunderstood by the belligerent invaders. By keeping it vague, Cameron paints a blanket evil and gives it the already hated face of corporate America. Who knew their reign of terror had such far reach?

Whether AVATAR will truly change the way we watch movies remains to be seen. Only time will tell if the technology Cameron pushed is used to strengthen or further cheapen Hollywood films. That same time will tell whether AVATAR is a passing fascination or a truly great piece of cinema. There is no denying though that Cameron has justified his crown as one of the great blockbuster filmmakers of our time. He has crafted a work that truly transcends what it means to see a film and invites the audience to partake in a unique experience instead. For the first time in a long time, Hollywood has a movie that is a must-see on the big screen.