Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Black Sheep Previews: DO THE RIGHT THING

The 20th Anniversary edition of Spike Lee's first major success, DO THE RIGHT THING, is available on DVD and BD today and the good people at Universal have asked me to tell you a little bit about it in hopes that you get out there and pick it up. The reissue contains over four hours of bonus features and they go a little something like this:

20th Anniversary Edition Feature Commentary with Director Spike Lee
Feature Commentary with Director Spike Lee, Director of Photography Ernest Dickerson, Production Designer Wynn Thomas and Actor Joie Lee
Do The Right Thing: 20 Years Later – New retrospective documentary with the cast and crew
Deleted & Extended Scenes – 11 newly discovered scenes cut from the final version of the film
Behind the Scenes – Spike Lee’s personal video footage from the set of the film
Making Do The Right Thing – In-depth documentary on the making of the film
Editor Berry Brown – Interview with the editor of Do The Right Thing
The Riot Sequence – Storyboard gallery of the climatic riot sequence
Cannes, 1989 – Press conference footage from the 1989 Cannes Film Festival

I personally have never seen this classic so I am very excited about this new edition and there may very likely be a Black Sheep review of the film next month. In the meantime, I have included the original trailer for the film's initial release to get you excited.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Black Sheep @ The Box Office: Transformers More Than Bleeds Us Dry

Earlier this week, Michael Bay was quoted in the press as saying he was disappointed with Paramount and Dreamworks’ promotion of his highly anticipate sequel, TRANFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN. He felt that there wasn’t enough of it; that his film was being treated as some plain old sequel and not the event film he believed it to be. After pulling in over $200 million in just five days, subsequently tying THE DARK KNIGHT for fastest film to reach $200 million and far surpassing SPIDER-MAN 2 ($152 million) as the highest five day-opening in history, it would seem to me that any more money spent on promotion would have been completely unnecessary.

TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN opened on Wednesday to the tune of $60 million, more than double what the TRANSFORMERS did in its opening day in 2007. This would have included over $16 million in midnight screenings the night before, second only to THE DARK KNIGHT. And with it’s near $30 million Thursday take, the film had already banked approximately $90 million before the weekend even began. As the first installment was a general crowd pleaser, it was expected that a lot of more casual filmgoers would have waited to catch the film on the weekend but the fanatics came out in droves during the week to ensure this mammoth success. Whereas critics were pretty much unanimous about not enjoying either film, fans were passionate about the last. This is not the case this time out. Fans of the first are split on the new one so a steeper than expected decline may follow next week. Still, the film captured one of the best global debuts of all time with a combined total of $387 million.

The week’s other major release did little to capitalize on counterprogramming. MY SISTER’S KEEPER, the movie that makes me teary during the trailers starring Cameron Diaz, opened in fifth place to a total of $12 million and an average of under $5K. Less than stellar reviews will likely urge many interested parties to wait for the rental. Meanwhile, a decidedly more upbeat romantic comedy, AWAY WE GO, has finally squeaked its way into the Top 10 this week. After adding over 360 screens, the Sam Mendes directed indie saw its earnings increase by over 93% over last week with an average of over $3K in its fourth week in theatres. Distributer, Focus Features, has been smart about its expansion technique and AWAY WE GO is now sitting comfortably as this summer’s light indie must see.

While the $26K per screen average of TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN is certainly impressive for such a wide release, it is not the highest per screen average this weekend. That would belong to Kathryn Bigelow’s highly regarded THE HURT LOCKER. This may be one of the first Iraq war films to register with filmgoers, as is evident with its $36K per screen average coming from just 4 sites in all of North America. In other limited release news, the Stephen Frears directed CHERI, starring Michelle Pfeiffer, opened to a solid but not spectacular total gross of $400K on just 76 screens. And finally, Woody Allen's WHATEVER WORKS maintained a healthy $11K per screen average as it expanded to 35 screens, suggesting the reaction to the film is a good one.

NEXT WEEK: TRANSFORMERS will face serious competition next weekend, making its expected tumble all the more inevitable. Families will be packing the seats for ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS (4000 screens) and will have the added bonus of higher ticket prices for the 3D screenings. And Michael Mann’s much anticipated Jon Dillinger biopic, PUBLIC ENEMIES, starring Johnny Depp, rolls out onto 3200 screens. Be sure to catch the Black Sheep review for PUBLIC ENEMIES coming mid week.

Source: Box Office Mojo

Friday, June 26, 2009


Written by Ehren Kruger, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman
Directed by Michael Bay
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel and John Turturro

Optimus Prime: Fate rarely calls upon us at a moment of our choosing.

I am having a difficult time figuring out how to express my feelings about TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN. Upon seeing the first TRANSFORMERS, it was simple; I hated it. It angered me, in fact. I had been a big fan of the toys themselves as a kid and so had high hopes for a big screen adaptation. In my mind, it was an easy update but somehow director, Michael Bay, managed to find a way to take my childhood nostalgia and transform those memories into the kind of mind numbing garbage that he insists on forcing upon the film going public time and time again. This time out though, I knew what to expect, so the threshold of disappointment was exponentially smaller. And so I’m not nearly as angry as I was in 2007 but I got exactly what I was expecting, which is essentially just more of the same. By that logic, I should dislike it just as much. Instead, I’m more apathetic than anything else. At least it didn’t get any worse.

Fans of the first TRANFORMERS may actually be disappointed this time around. To go back and watch the first installment now, after the novelty factor has worn off on the superb special effects behind the Transformers themselves, would likely be disappointing for most fans. Without the wow-factor of the heavy metal to weigh it down, the film’s inconsistencies and banalities float to the surface. The same can be said about this sequel. We’ve all seen these majestic creatures before so what is there to be excited about this time out? The story? The acting? This is a Michael Bay picture; if it isn’t about the explosions and the girls, then it isn’t about anything at all. A special effects driven sequel has one goal only – to be bigger and, when it comes to Bay’s films, more bombastic than its predecessor. When the climax of your film amounts to countless explosions and shots of Megan Fox running in slow motion though, the approach is far too transparent to be appreciated. At least it was easier to tell who was fighting whom this time.

People often criticize me for expecting a decent story in blockbuster entertainment. We all know its possible … SPIDER-MAN? THE DARK KNIGHT? IRON MAN? Yet still, the general population is much more apt to forgive story holes in bigger movies because it isn’t the most important element of these pictures. Knowing that it is possible only infuriates me when I see films that don’t even seem interested in trying to flesh out a plausible story. The premise for REVENGE OF THE FALLEN is triggered when Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) finds a small chunk of the cube the Decepticons (bad guys) wanted to take control of in the first film in the pocket of his sweater he was wearing back on that fateful day. Upon touching it, it gets real hot, falls through the floor and lands in the Witwicky kitchen, subsequently transforming all the appliances into menacing little robots. So for two inexplicable years, the cube fragment lied dormant in a cotton sweater – cotton apparently being the cube’s kryptonite equivalent. When the start of your premise has holes, I just feel it’s pretty lazy to not come up with a stronger one. As for the rest of the plot, the Transformers rumble around the globe pretty much and humanity isn’t sure how comfortable they are with that.

Bay gives us exactly what he always does in TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN because that is truly all he is capable of. Bay, who just loves critics because all they do is tear him apart, knows nothing of nuance and his approach to filmmaking is fairly childish, in a paint-by-numbers-like fashion. He thinks that people want big bombs, big boobs and big egos and arguably, judging from the money his flicks pull in most of the time, the people do want these things. Bringing nothing new to the table though only exposes how thin his direction truly is. Bay made this movie to appeal directly to the teenage male mind because he clearly still operates himself under the same principles that govern that mindset. The trouble is, some of us who remember playing with Transformers as boys fondly have actually grown up now and need just a little brain with our beauty.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Written and Directed by Woody Allen
Starring Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley Jr.

Boris Yellnikof: On paper, we’re ideal but life isn’t on paper.

WHATEVER WORKS is not just the title of Woody Allen’s 41st film. It is also clearly a philosophy that he has applied toward his own life here on earth. Like many an Allen project in the past, this one makes no apologies for mirroring his own life experiences. As Allen does not appear too often in his own films anymore, there is ordinarily an Allen replacement to speak his voice and to do so with just the right balance of neurosis and paranoia. In this case, another famously awkward neurotic, Larry David (TV’s “Curb your Enthusiasm”), has stepped into Allen’s shoes, as Boris Yellnikof. With a name like that, it is no wonder he is such fatalist. At this stage in his life, he is divorced, living alone and loving hating humanity whenever he can. After he meets a 21-year-old Southern runaway named Melodie St. Ann Celestine (Evan Rachel Wood), his life becomes unrecognizable and he must now make whatever his life was work once again.

After a jaunt around Europe, Allen has returned to the city that he is synonymously associated with, New York City. New York now, after some time apart, is no longer romanticized but rather this is the New York that houses all of those who cannot find their place anywhere else. Allen seems to be taking it even one step further to suggest that New York changes those who spend any lengthy period of time there, whether they want to or not. Melodie, who in just her name is inherently more whimsical than Boris, has come to New York to escape her repressive Southern upbringing. Unbeknownst to her though, she has found herself in an even more restricted environment, Boris’s apartment. With no place to go, she weasels her way into Boris’s life and yes, they do eventually become involved romantically. The almost 50-year difference between them is all too easily linked to Allen’s own relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, who is more than 30 years his junior. WHATEVER WORKS was written in the late 70’s though so the parallels are merely circumstantial and Allen is smart enough to never show the pair in any overtly romantic expression. Their relationship is more symbolic than romantic anyway.

In last year’s triumph, VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA, Allen had a noticeably more relaxed approach to filmmaking and he brought that back with him from what seemed like a very good vacation. He experiments with breaking the fourth wall as Boris randomly addresses the audience about the story, or more specifically his take on that story. He is the only one capable of doing so and even his onscreen colleagues seem to think he is losing his mind a little. David is strong enough to make it work though. David plays Boris with his own brand of pessimistic social discomfort rather than trying to recreate the character that Allen made famous. That said, David’s signature character may not be what it is without Allen’s influence to begin with so the nod to history is present regardless. And with Melodie, a character who wants so much to embrace the beauty of life, there to counterbalance, Allen the director takes a decidedly optimistic favouring and exposes pessimism as mistaken insight when it is nothing more than avoidance.

WHATEVER WORKS will not disappoint Allen fans but Allen detractors will find plenty to pick apart. With an open mind though, anyone can appreciate this humour. It is an advanced version of Allen’s signature wit and structure where he even revisits some of the relationship themes he explored in ANNIE HALL. No one person in a relationship knows what is better for the couple or for themselves and Allen seems finally rested enough to accept that he doesn’t know any better himself. For whatever it’s worth, WHATEVER WORKS, works.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Black Sheep @ The Box Office: Yes, Sandra Bullock! We Will Marry You.

Albeit a premise that has been done many times before and despite a recently uneven track record for star, Sandra Bullock, North America has proclaimed a resounding, “Yes!” for THE PROPOSAL, as the comedy conquered all at the box office this weekend. I guess everybody loves a June wedding!

THE PROPOSAL had its rehearsal dinner last weekend, where a sneak preview allowed audiences to see the bride before the wedding. While that would ordinarily be considered bad luck, it was the complete opposite here. Like most marriages these days though, it will be the weeks to come that will show whether this marriage will make it to the golden years or end up in divorce.

The week’s other big release generated about as much interest as a high school history lesson. YEAR ONE starring Jack Black and Michael Cera as some of the first people to ever grace this good earth, pulled in a modest average of just under $7K per screen. I would call that historic and I’m fairly certain, it will soon be forgotten.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Top 10 continued to separate the men from the boys as THE HANGOVER, UP!, NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM 2 and STAR TREK all posted declines of 30% or lower. UP! is now in the perfect position to not only become this summer’s biggest hit (so far) but it will also most likely finish its run as the second most successful animated film of all time, behind another Pixar classic, FINDING NEMO.

Below the Top 10, summertime independent, AWAY WE GO continued its successful expansion, with a potential Top 10 appearance likely in the next couple of weeks. FOOD INC and MOON held up solidly, if not spectacularly, in their second weeks. It was Woody Allen though that made the big splash this weekend. After the summer success of his last film, VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA, Allen returns this summer with his first New York City based film in years, WHATEVER WORKS, starring Larry David. WHATEVER WORKS, which will be reviewed by Black Sheep this week, opened on just nine screens (vs. almost 700 screens for VCB) but pulled in an average of over $31K on those screens for a total of $281K. The film expands next week and will try to match VCB’s $23 million domestic tally, the most for an Allen film is years.

NEXT WEEK: TRANSFORMERS 2 is expected to be the biggest thing this summer and it hits this Wednesday on more than 4000 screens. And you know you’re in trouble when the trailer almost makes you cry; Cameron Diaz returns to screens in MY SISTER’S KEEPER (2600 screens).

Source: Box Office Mojo

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Remembering the year 2002

2002 is not a year that I often like to recall. I was 25 years old and there was so much going on in my life at the time that it all ended up falling down on top of me. I had just graduated from university but I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life so I just went on going to work day after day at my pointless retail job. As if that weren’t daunting enough, my relationship of three years was coming to a particularly dramatic end. We would fight about everything. It got so bad at one point that one night, after coming home from having seen THE HOURS and CHICAGO back to back, we argued extensively over which was better as if that actually mattered. I was in THE HOURS camp. The manner in which Stephen Daldry brought depression to the forefront was shockingly palpable. Paul was adamantly pro-CHICAGO. I suppose escaping harsh reality for musical exuberance was where his head was at. With a little perspective and a heck of a lot of healing, I think I can finally admit that he may have been right after all … maybe … at least about that anyway.

I should clarify; I always loved CHICAGO. I felt that Bill Condon, the screenwriter who would go on much later to direct DREAMGIRLS, had found the most seamless way to adapt a stage musical to the screen. He borrowed the concept from the stage production itself but he brought it to such new heights that it made CHICAGO into a triumphant return for a genre that had long been suffering. The musical numbers that would ordinarily disrupt the story were all worked in as a means of escape in the mind of the star, Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger). Having just been arrested for the capital murder of her lover, Roxie desperately needed a way to cope with her new reality. First time feature filmmaker and veteran theatre director, Rob Marshall, took Condon’s sharp script and made sure that every nuance was not only handled delicately but honoured so that CHICAGO could do more than just be an excellent film experience. Marshall infused an energy to a show that is so stark on stage by keeping the pacing fast and the lighting always theatrical and richly colorful. Suddenly, you had a musical that didn’t have numbers that stopped the story but rather commented on it at all times and made it that much more exhilarating. After winning the Oscar for Best Picture that year and taking in roughly $170 million at the box office, it was clear that Marshall’s CHICAGO had saved the musical itself from certain death.

I should also clarify that I was depressed when I first saw THE HOURS. Perhaps, as I am now not depressed, I can look back on the two works and have an easier time delighting in the musical while feeling a degree of hesitation going back to darker times. At the time though, I distinctly remember feeling that the isolation of depression was captured not only so succinctly but in a fashion that was intricately complex and beautifully executed. THE HOURS is all about the actresses. A trio of incredible women, Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep, play variations on the same woman throughout the eras to show the timeliness of depression and how it is seen and dealt with differently depending on the period and the surroundings. It does run the risk of being seen as a distinctly female experience but clearly that isn’t so. One day around the time of the film’s release, a woman came in to the record store I was working at and asked for the brilliant score by Philip Glass. I immediately began talking to her about how profoundly the film had affected me, even going so far as to cite specific scenes in detail. She had just come from the film and you could see she had been crying. This woman was bewildered that I was able to connect with this film coming from a male perspective. I simply told her straight up, as she left the store with the score in hand, that depression has no gender, that it is universal.

The truth is that neither Paul now I was right. Film appreciation, as I’ve said time and time again, is inherently subjective. The way we see film, the manner in which it moves or excites us, is directly affected by what we bring to the screen as viewers – whether that be because we are in the middle of a painful breakup or because we woke up with a musical bounce in our step. What matters more is that these films worked their way into our hearts and not at all how they got there in the first place. Of course, we weren’t actually arguing about the movies; we were arguing about much harder, much more complicated issues. Our passion for the films allowed us to use them as our swords and shields. The films themselves helped us each move on.

Regardless, both films get ...

2002 Top 10

ADAPTATION, Directed by Spike Jonze
CHICAGO, Rob Marshall
FRIDA, Julie Taymor
THE HOURS, Stephen Daldry
THE PIANIST, Roman Polanski
PUNCH DRUNK LOVE, Paul Thomas Anderson
SECRETARY, Steven Shainberg
Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN, Alfonso Cuaron

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Written by Harold Ramis, Gene Stupnitsky and Eisenberg
Directed by Harold Ramis
Starring: Jack Black, Michael Cera, Oliver Platt, David Cross and Hank Azaria

Zed: I’m sorry; I wasn’t listening. All my brain blood was in my boner.

I can’t be certain whether YEAR ONE refers to the first year in history in which this Harold Ramis directed film takes place or if it refers to the year of film schooling that was finished by this staff behind the cameras on this film. YEAR ONE, in which Jack Black and Michael Cera wander from one biblical story to the next for no apparent reason other than that being what is written and therefore what is so, is occasionally amusing but only really because of how amateurish it all plays out. Logic was apparently not discovered in our first year here, as it makes no appearance in this film at any point. With Black and Cera leading the way though, the buffoonery with which every presence carries itself is enough to get us through the year. How humanity survived with these idiots in charge is beyond me though.

Zed (Black) is a hunter and Oh (Cera) is a gatherer. Zed isn’t any good at his job and Oh shouldn’t be any good at his job as that’s really woman’s work when you think about it long enough. Personally, I feel that both of these jobs should be genderless but this was the first year of history; women didn’t have Madonna or Oprah or Miley Cyrus to show them that they could do anything yet. Zed’s ignorant bumbling and lack of respect for authority get him booted out of the tribe and he goes Jerry Maguire on them, asking who will go with him to start a new tribe. You will never guess who goes with. OK, it’s Oh. Big shock. They never quite realize their dreams of a new utopia as they constantly just run into meddlesome biblical characters, from Cain and Abel (David Cross and Paul Rudd) to Abraham and Isaac (Hank Azaria and Christopher Mintz-Plasse). They all look absolutely ridiculous with their long wigs and loincloths; it makes it hard to take any of it seriously but it is a comedy, I guess. Maybe if I had been laughing more, I would have been able to see that.

YEAR ONE feels unfinished at times. One moment, Oh is being strangled by a snake and then, cut. Oh is back at camp, safe and sound. There is not even a mention of how he evaded what seemed like certain death seconds earlier. He’s safe now and that’s what matters. Poor Oh though – before long he ends up in another perilous situation, this time involving a cougar. Just when you think he is going to be mauled to death, he is suddenly back at camp again. He’s got a few scratches though so at least we know something went down, but what? Did Ramis think that we wouldn’t care how he got out of these scenarios or was that part of the joke? It would fall in line with the film’s random and oblivious sense of humour though. This would be the same irrational approach that doesn’t explain how Oh manages that perfectly smooth shave when everyone else is scruffy or how a couple of the ladies managed to find tinted contact lenses back then. Did I mention that everyone talks as though they grew up watching television?

While sometimes funny, YEAR ONE is more uneven and odd above anything else. Black plays it cool and takes a strong lead but Cera, while still unavoidably adorable, is beginning to wear his awkwardness a little thin. They make for an amusing enough pair though and it is their combined charisma that gives us the strength to look away from the ludicrously excessive performances from the supporting players (with the exception of Oliver Platt – hilarious). If this really were as introductory as the first year of existence would have it be, I would be more inclined to be more forgiving but these are all seasoned players. This is not amateur night at the caveman improv after all; this is a major Hollywood production. Perhaps had Ramis drawn some parallels between then and now to show how little progress has actually been made in the many years since the first, it might have felt somewhat more purposeful. Instead, it will just be forgotten like history itself.


An interview with THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE director, Steven Soderbergh

(Portions of this article are taken from CBC Arts Online and have been published here with their permission.)

I’ll admit to being nervous. I’m not above that. I had interviewed filmmakers before but I had never interviewed a director whose films were among some of my all time favorites. This was certainly a step up for me. This was the man who directed the technical masterpiece, TRAFFIC, and won an Oscar for it. This was the man who gave me one of my guiltiest pleasures, OUT OF SIGHT. This was the man whose latest film, THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE, is stimulating on a number of levels and one of the best films I've seen all year. This was Steven Soderbergh, people.

The day before my interview was scheduled to take place, I had been invited to see a special press screening of THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE. Shot over a period of 16 days in October 2008, GFE, as it was originally titled, is a week in the life of Chelsea (played by 21-year-old adult film star, Sasha Grey). Chelsea is strikingly beautiful, made even more impressive considering she is only seen eating at the finest Manhattan restaurants or leaving the most luxurious Upper West Side hotels or shopping at the priciest Soho designer shops. She keeps a meticulous account of all her appointments, noting the clothing she wore, the meals she ate or the movies she may have discussed. She is also insatiably unsatisfied with the goals she has attained and is always looking for ways to be better at what she does. What she does is charge people over $2000 per hour for not just the pleasure of her company in bed but rather the full experience of what it feels like to be her boyfriend.

For years, Soderbergh has gone back and forth between big studio pictures with big names and independent films that feature real people with real problems and only an outline to get from the start to the finish. THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE would fall into the latter of the two categories, if one felt the need to categorize it. Soderbergh doesn’t see the distinction nor this need to define his work quite so rigidly. “People seem compelled to divvy up my career into two parts,” he states. “They’re both like math problems; one has a different set of integers than the other but its still math.” Still, he is not so naïve to suggest that there is the same degree of financial risk between the two. “What is helpful about the small films is you’re closer to the ground if you make a mistake. If I fall off this rope, I’m going to sprain an ankle; I’m not going to die.”

Arguably, Soderbergh has been experimenting with realism on camera since his first feature, the then groundbreaking, SEX LIES AND VIDEOTAPE. The frankness with which sexuality was discussed would go unnoticed today (“It is like watching a movie that took place in world with gas lamps,” Soderbergh quips about watching it now) but the honesty with which the characters address themselves and each other is a form of realism that seems still difficult to achieve on film today. Realism is what makes THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE such a fascinating interaction. Not only was it shot amidst last year’s financial collapse and just before the elections but it is set then as well. As money exchanges hands between Chelsea and her clients, nearly all of them seem to be questioning whether they can still fit her into their budgets. “Since the design of the film is that people are speaking for and as themselves, that’s just where everybody’s head was.,” he says, knowing the situation added an extra level of intrigue to the film that may have been tricky to get less organically.

While Soderbergh’s indie projects tend to use non-actors, this one is different, mostly. Grey, has been working in pornography since she was 18 years old and THE GIRLDFRIEND EXPERIENCE marks her first foray into mainstream filmmaking. She didn’t get into adult film because of drugs or booze or a broken home; she simply saw a need and filled it. Soderbergh was drawn to her ambition and uncommon backstory, to say nothing of her baby doll beauty. He did not cast her for these reasons though. No, he cast her because she exudes control in situations that are otherwise fantastical to mainstream society. “Even though I knew it wasn’t going to be explicit, I wanted somebody who in sexualized situations feels totally in command and powerful. I feel like that’s a tricky thing to fake.” He’s right. On screen, Grey is always in control of what she allows herself to say and how she allows herself to be seen and treated. Detractors of the film have claimed that Grey’s distant, aloof demeanor leave the film feeling shallow but Soderbergh begs to differ. For him, the film would lose everything it has going if Grey had played it any other way. She is meant to be mystery.

Having done some unavoidable research of Grey’s previous work on film, Soderbergh knew he would have only one serious hurdle to get over. “What I noticed about her extreme stuff was her awareness of the camera. She is always aware of the lens, playing to the lens. I knew it was going to be interesting to put her in a situation where she would absolutely have to forget the camera because it seemed like she was obsessed with it.” And how will all of this play for Grey and her fans? Grey, who couldn’t believe it when she got home to find Soderbergh’s voice on her answering machine, appears naked only once on screen and is never seen having any actual sex. How will this new sensitive side of Sasha Grey affect the way her fans watch her adult work? “Fantasy is about something that you aren’t getting and that you want. We have the inverse here with Sasha. You can, on her site, within seconds, see her do anything imaginable with her clothes off. What you can’t see is what its like to be her boyfriend and hang out with her or be emotionally intimate with her. My whole theory is that this is the fantasy for the guys who have been double-clicking but would rather spend 77 minutes being her boyfriend.”

As for Soderbergh, he is already hard at work on his next feature, MONEYBALL, starring Brad Pitt and Demitri Martin. Having run around all day myself, from a movie to an interview then to this interview before another one immediately afterward that would be followed by industry drinks, I had only one more question. When is Steven Soderbergh going to take a well-deserved break? “What’s going to happen is at a certain point, I will just stop. I don’t have two speeds; I’ll just stop.” His answer was straightforward and succinct. You might even say it was Soderberghian. Well, I might anyway.

SOURCE: CBC Arts Online

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Written and Directed by Robert Kenner

“It looks like a tomato but it’s more of a notional tomato, the idea of a tomato.”

If we are what we eat, then none of us are going to make it. FOOD INC is one of the scariest movies of the year and also one that will sadly not be seen by as many as it should. Our parents watch over us when we’re young and stop us if we are going to put something in our mouths that we shouldn’t, like gum we find on the floor or something equally bacteria ridden. And yes, these same parents would put the best possible food they could on the tables but no one wants to ask any questions about how this food actually got from the farm to the table. Whenever I have recommended to anyone that they see FOOD INC, the first thing they ask is if this is the kind of movie that shows us what we’re really eating. When I tell them it is, they want nothing to do with it. Apparently, when it comes to food, ignorance is bliss … with a big fat side of fries.

First time feature filmmaker, Robert Kenner has put together an important film that is actually a lot easier to chew and digest than you would expect. Watching FOOD INC is not going to make you lose your lunch. It will however open your eyes to what you really were packing for lunch. At first, Kenner had been working with author, Eric Schlosser, to make a documentary of Schlosser’s fascinating expose, FAST FOOD NATION. That was unfortunately made into a lackluster fictional work instead but now FOOD INC is the movie I always wanted FAST FOOD NATION to be. Schlosser is still on hand as an expert (whose favorite meal, ironically, is burgers and fries) but this film does not focus solely on the role fast food has played in the decline of our food production. Instead, it starts there and looks at the cleanliness of slaughterhouses, the conglomerate control of farming and the government bias that ensures that manufacturers are better protected than the consumers.

FOOD INC is not some prejudicial disparagement of the American food industry. In fact, it is almost forgiving of the corporate driven field as it states a number of times that the situation we find ourselves in today was likely unintended at the onset. Like other documentaries that cry out for change that will benefit humanity though, it offers little advice to go forward with. There are a number of suggestions at the close of the film of how we the little people can make a difference for our selves and for others but after seeing just how much excess fat we are already drowning in, it is hard to think that these suggestion truly will better future generations. Still, we must start somewhere and we should all start by seeing FOOD INC.

For a list of things you can do right now to improve how you eat, visit the film’s website.

BLU-TUESDAY .. June 16

Although this week is weak on first run releases, the titles making their way to BD for the first time are abundant. With all the chatter about a new film potentially in the works, GHOSTBUSTERS on BD should satisfy those need of an ectoplasmic fix now. Another classic comedy, SPACEBALLS, the Mel Brooks STAR WARS spoof comes back to show all the current spoofers how it’s done. And the Criterion folks release their latest BD treatment of a film classic, in this case, Ingmar Bergman’s THE SEVENTH SEAL. But wait, there’s more …

FRIDAY THE 13TH (parts 1-3)
Who would have thought that it has nearly been 30 years since horror icon, Jason, first terrorized a bunch of innocent campers in their cabins and sleeping bags? To commemorate the anniversary, Paramount is releasing the first three films in the now 12-part long series on BD. The first installment was released in an uncut version earlier this year but now finds the “Killer Cut” coming out. This pretty much means more blood and more gore. Though a series reboot attempt proved to be only minutely successful this year, a sequel is already in the works so it should be long before more reissued Jason adventures find their way to BD. Though the features vary from film to film, you can expect to find a sampling of the following extras …

- Director/Screenwriter commentary
- Director profile
- 2008 panel discussion revisiting the films
- Special effects showcases
- Trivia
- 3rd installment is in 3D

In 2007, a good chunk of Stanley Kubrick classics were remastered and reissued on DVD. A notable absence was this particular favorite that was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Director, back when I was initially released in 1964. It is now ready for BD release in the year of its 45th anniversary so Kurbrick fans will be one step closer to completing their collections. Always putting his bravest foot forward, Kubrick tackled the nuclear scare in this satire and did so with biting comedy that found audiences laughing instead of worrying for a change. Aside from about a half dozen special featurettes, the BD edition also contains …

- Picture in Picture trivia track
- Interview with former Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara

I am by no means an American history buff and I know for certain that I am not about to pick up an American history book to get up on it. And so I am thankful for the good people at HBO for bringing me this miniseries. Now I can learn all about the birth of the United States in a Tom Hanks produced series that is impeccably acted by Emmy and Golden Globe winners, Paul Giamatti, Laura Linner and Tom Wilkinson. I have only up to now watched the first episode and, for a heavily wigged period piece, it is compelling and tense. I am not advocating doing all of your historical learning through fictionalized drama but you could do a lot worse than this. This 3-Disc set contains …

- Making of John Adams
- Portrait of author, David McCullough
- Pop-up historical guide
- Episode recaps

Monday, June 15, 2009


Someone needs to explain to me right now why GRAN TORINO is considered the #77 best film of all time according to Internet Movie Database readers. Better yet, someone needs to explain to me why Hollywood trips over itself every time a Clint Eastwood picture comes along. I get it; he’s an icon. He’s probably even a very likable fella. The man has been directing films since the early 1970’s. He’s even won two Oscars for directing (one for UNFORGIVEN and again for MILLION DOLLAR BABY). I’m not saying he isn’t talented; even I lavished him with praise for LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA. But for every one of those, there is another FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS. Or worse yet, there’s MYSTIC RIVER – God, that one was particularly painful. Just because Clint is a legend does not mean everything he touches will be legendary.

Had I caught GRAN TORINO in theatres upon its release, I would have likely named it among the worst films of 2008. I am so thrilled the Academy Awards ignored this embarrassment. Audiences did not ignore this picture though; the film went on to gross just under $150 million in North America. Many people saw this picture as a retired reincarnation of Eastwood’s iconic Dirty Harry character. Personally, I saw his character, Walt Kowalski, as the kind of old white guy who is generally seen as the generation that needs to die off in order for America to become open minded. He leers in judgment at everyone he crosses – from his pierced, ungrateful granddaughter to his inexperienced priest to his Korean neighbors who won’t get off his lawn. His wife has just passed and now that he is totally alone, all he has to keep him company is his misery. Well, that is until he ends up befriending the Korean neighbors and they subsequently change his whole outlook on other cultures. Apparently, it isn’t so tricky to teach an old dog new tricks.

Pulling double duty as director and lead actor must have taken a lot of Eastwood’s focus. I can think of no other explanation why he didn’t notice that nearly all the other performances in GRAN TORINO are distractingly laughable. It’s all about Walt though. He is an old crank who spouts out racial obscenities to passersby or to himself while he incessantly mows his lawn or sits on his porch downing canned beer and hating everyone. Focusing all his attention on Walt meant leaving all the secondary characters to rely on nothing more than racial stereotypes to establish themselves. In the end then, Walt has to resolve his ignorance with a society that is written from an already ignorant perspective and we’re supposed to commend him for his progress. Thank goodness that the old, angry white guy was able to open his mind in time to see that he had to come to the rescue of all the unruly foreigners. Very progressive indeed.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Black Sheep @ The Box Office

I'm afraid there will be no box office report this week. Believe it or not but Black Sheep has other things to do every once in a while. For instance, today is my best buddy, Trevor's birthday, which he would likely call a birfday. He's just like that. Anyway, I've got things to wrap, food to make and surprises to reveal. You'll just have to settle for chart only this week.

Briefly, THE HANGOVER held on for a second week at number one. I had previously reported it had debuted in second place last week but it's Sunday numbers were much better than expected and it ended up winning last weekend. UP! remained in second with an equally impressive hold from last week. THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 was the big premiere this week and it posted a solid third place finish, on par with previous blockbusters from stars, John Travolta and Denzel Washington. Eddie Murphy was not so lucky; for the second summer in a row, an Eddie Murphy family comedy has bombed with under $6 million in its first weekend. Below the Top 10, AWAY WE GO maintained a healthy $12K average as it expanded to over 40 screens. The Sam Rockwell starrer, MOON, debuted to $18K per screen on a eight screens. Direct from Cannes, Francis Ford Coppola's latest, TETRO debuted to an average of approximately $15K on just two screens. But it was documentary, FOOD INC (Black Sheep review to follow next week) that took the honour of best average this weekend with $21K on three screens.

NEXT WEEK: Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds in THE PROPOSAL take on Jack Black and Michael Cera in YEAR ONE as they both debut on roughly 2900 screens. And Woody Allen's latest with Larry David, WHATEVER WORKS, makes its limited release debut.


Friday, June 12, 2009


Written and Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Starring Malcolm McDowell

As far as film experiences go, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is by far one of the most challenging, one of the most disturbing and one of the most satisfying experiences to be had. Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 masterpiece is considered practically unwatchable by many of its detractors and possibly his most inspired work by many of its admirers. A contemporary viewing of the film is surprisingly horrifying, considering how desensitized the world has become to, what was coined at the time as, ultra-violence. I can only imagine what initial audiences of the film went through as they met and came to know, the now iconic, Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell). Critics at the time called it either the greatest film ever made or the most deplorably amoral piece of pornography ever made. With such a distinct divide, it is no wonder that A CLOCKWORK ORANGE has stayed the test of time and overcome its criticism to take its rightful place as one of the most controversial films ever made.

Kubrick makes it practically impossible to like Alex from the very start. He is young and attractive, sitting with his mates, known as The Droogs, at a bar unlike any other I’ve ever seen. In this representation of Britain set in an indeterminate time in the future, the cool thing to do is to sit around and drink milk, complete with chemical enhancement, dispensed from the nipples of milk bars shaped like naked women, while you put your feet up on tables, also shaped like naked women in spider walk poses. When Alex and The Droogs leave the bar, they make a few choice stops before heading home. The first is an alley, where they beat up a drunk, homeless man, perhaps because they can see their own futures in front of them or perhaps because they just felt like it. Then they save a helpless naked girl from being gang raped in an abandoned theatre by beating on her attackers. Of course, Kubrick allows us to watch her attempted rape long enough for it go from uncomfortable and sickening to a full on rape fantasy, but that is somehow part of this film’s charm. At this point, we are still torn on Alex but then he and The Droogs force their way into a luxury home and proceed to beat the man of the house senseless and rape his wife in front of him, all the while singing the cheery tune, “Singin’ in the Rain”. Then its back to his cushy room at home with Mom and Dad for Alex, just another night out with the boys.

This overt misogyny is rampant throughout A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, from the women with their legs spread wide open in the art on the walls to the young ladies sucking on penis shaped suckers in a record store. As offensive as it all can be, perhaps it is best served as a foundation for the times Alex has grown up in. It is possible that Alex has no respect for women because society in general has none either. Even strong female characters, what little there are in the film, have the same paintings on their walls or walk around with lightning blue hair and are clearly not meant to be taken too seriously. And while this may explain Alex’s lack of respect for women, it does not say anything of his violent tendencies. His antics get him arrested and sent to jail at one point and, after spending a few years behind bars, Alex volunteers for an experimental process that is supposed to cure him of all violent impulses. This ushers in one of the film’s central themes, one’s own free will. The experiment is a success; through a series of tests involving drugs and forced subjection to violent imagery, Alex now gets physically ill every time he wants to do bad. The question then remains whether a person can be conditioned to change from evil to good and whether there is truly any change at all if the impulse remains but the subject is just no longer capable of acting on it. If Alex were physically paralyzed, he would not be able to inflict harm on other people but the answer is not to cut off the limbs of all criminals currently in prison to ensure good behaviour. How then is it fair for the government to sever the minds of madmen, as though they were limbs, to achieve the same effect?

The experiments that were conducted on Alex lend a critical layer to A CLOCKWORK ORANGE that practically places the viewer in Alex’s torture seat. We are, after all, as spectators and potential admirers of this fantastic film, like Alex, attracted to violent film. Why else would we be watching this? Unlike Alex, yes, we can walk away whenever we want to, but how often do we do just that? The experiments Alex undergoes suppose that his initial exposure to such violent imagery played a significant role in his violent nature and this is why they are now being used to trigger negative reactions to similar impulses. If you’ve watched this far into the film, then you’ve seen quite a bit of provocative imagery. Does this then mean that something inside of you has been triggered to now want to reenact these acts you have just seen, as you equate this kind of violence with the slick, smooth coolness of the film? Of course not. Why then is it so simple for right wing conservative groups to propose that film violence has a direct impact on the rise of violent behaviour in an impressionable mind? To further drive the point, Kubrick aligns us with Alex everytime Alex’s narration is heard and he refers to himself as our humble narrator and to us as his only friends. Suddenly, this is the company we are keeping in close council. Alex is without question an appalling human being but now that we’re friends , we can’t just turn him away.

The scary truth is that I actually feel sympathy for Alex by the time his journey comes to a close. I also do, to some extent, delight in his company. I don’t condone his bevaviour but he is certainly good for a chuckle now and then. In that sense, Kubrick reminds us that nothing is as simple as it seems. You cannot just turn violent nature on or off by flipping a switch in someone’s head; you cannot reject Alex flat out because you cannot say with any certainty that he is incapable of being saved; and you cannot simply dismiss a film because of its rough exterior or you will miss the complexities lying underneath. Like a plain old orange, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE may be tough on the outside but you have to peel through it to get to the juicy bits on the inside.