Sunday, November 29, 2009

Black Sheep @ The Box Office: Leftovers Anyone?

Happy Thanksgiving to all you American Black Sheeper's out there! Let's take a look at what you served yourselves up for dinner this week. From the looks of it, you really liked what was on the menu last weekend as the Top 3 are unchanged despite Hollywood's hearty holiday helpings. TWILIGHT: NEW MOON dropped off by 70% but when you've scored $230 million domestically in two weeks, who is going to say anything? Meanwhile, Sandra Bullock vehicle, THE BLINDSIDE, actually improved on last weekend's numbers, showing that people still like that warm fuzzy feeling with their turkey. And for a disaster pic, 2012 continues to avoid its own disaster with a slight 31% decline.

Apparently OLD DOGS is no WILD HOGS. The follow up from the director of the 2008 blockbuster was not able to deliver again as OLD DOGS didn't even break the $20 million mark. With intense competition coming up, word of mouth will not be able to save this one. I guess it's time for some new tricks after all. Then again, new tricks aren't necessarily interesting to anyone either. James McTeigue's follow-up to V FOR VENDETTA, NINJA ASSASSINS, barely got any notice. Maybe the ninjas were too stealth for their own good.

FANTASTIC MR. FOX expanded to mild results, finishing in ninth place. It will need serious word of mouth to get anywhere at this point. And even though PRECIOUS dropped off a little amidst all the competition and the likely need to avoid its harshness during the holiday, it has still still taken in over $32 million without screening on more than 700 screens. And awards season hasn't even started yet!

Outside of the Top 10, the post-apocalyptic Oscar hopeful, THE ROAD scored a solid $13K per screen average on 111 screens to finish in 11th place. After the official numbers come in, it might overtake THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS, as their total takes are only $10K apart, THE PRIVATE LIVES OF PIPPA LEE, directed by Rebecca Miller, features an Oscar contending performance by Robin Wright (she has dropped the Penn) but she will have to work the circuit hard after the tepid $8K per screen average it scored this weekend. Zac Efron should be happy with the solid $16K per screen debut of his first serious role in ME AND ORSON WELLES, where he plays a young Orson. But it is Disney who should be leaping like frogs this weekend as their first 2D animated film in over a decade, THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG, debuted to record grosses in platform release, pulling in $356K per screen average on just 2 screens. The film goes wide on December 11.

NEXT WEEK: Jim Sheridan's drama, BROTHERS, and the Robert Deniro family holiday film, EVERYBODY'S FINE open on 2200 screens. Something I've never heard (bad critic!), ARMORED, opens on 1900 screens. And indie flicks, SERIOUS MOONLIGHT and UP IN THE AIR, from JUNO director, Jason Reitman, start their limited runs.


Friday, November 27, 2009


Written by Joe Penhall
Directed by John Hillcoat
Starring Viggo Mortensen, Charlize Theron and Kodi Smit-McPhee

Man: I think it’s October but I can’t be sure.

We all walk it. At times, we might think we know where it’s headed but we would be lying to ourselves if we said we knew that with utter certainty. The fact is that the world outside your window is constantly changing and one day, it may not even be there. It is the manner in which you handle that fact that defines a significant part of who you are. You could not bother with any of it seeing as how it is all essentially meaningless anyway. On the other hand, you could see the time before you as precious and infuse it with everything you have in order to create your own meaning in this great, big world. There is no right or wrong way to do it but your shot is now and you’re walking down that road whether you want to or not. Do yourself a favour though and see John Hillcoat’s post-apocalyptic reflection on the human spirit, THE ROAD, while you’re out there.

Just as it is in the Pulitzer-prize winning novel by Cormac McCarthy that the film is based upon, there is no confirmation as to what halted life as we knew it. It could have been a nuclear disaster or a solar explosion but how it happened hardly matters. What does matter is what is done after it happens. Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron are a seemingly happy couple before and tragically divided after. All he can see is how fortunate they are for having survived and how they must persevere given this particular fortune. All she can see is how everything worth living for before is now gone. Caught between them is the young boy (fresh face, Kodi Smit-McPhee) that was conceived before and born after the world ended. There isn’t much plot to speak of, just a journey to find hope in the form of food or comfort or warmth and security. Luckily, Mortensen leads with a strong command and a determined sense of purpose that both impresses and inspires a similar determination in the viewer.

The road for the movie itself was a lengthy one. THE ROAD was due to be released last fall but the studio felt that the marketplace was crowded and that the film could benefit from a stronger post-production period. I can’t say how the film stood up a year ago but it certainly stands up straight and tall now. Cinematographer, Javier Aguirresarobe (VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA, NEW MOON) paints bleakness with so many shades of gray that the absence of colour becomes a colour all unto itself. Of course the canvas he has to fill is inspired by an incredibly detailed and realistic production design. This is a world covered in ash and littered with abandoned vehicles and discarded belongings. Barren trees crash to the ground without warning and empty basements might be filled with much sought after canned food or people simply wasting away and waiting to be eaten by other people. It isn’t an easy world but it is still the only one they've got.

You know what they say, right? It isn’t at all about the destination. As Mortensen and Smit-McPhee make their way south, they teeter back and forth between belief and defeat. They don’t know what’s waiting for them; they just know they have to keep heading there. Just like the road underneath your own feet, THE ROAD is not an easy experience. It is however one of unconventional beauty that is rich with meaning and that leads to a place of deeper understanding. You just have to walk it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Pippa Lee is a people pleaser. I get that; I do it all the time too. Still, while there is nothing wrong with considering the feelings of others, it does open the door to prioritize those feelings more than you would your own. Writer/Director, Rebecca Miller, has decided though that it is high time that her heroine take center stage in her own life and reveal the complicated, the repressed and yes even, THE PRIVATE LIVES OF PIPPA LEE.

Robin Wright Penn plays the particularly enigmatic Pippa Lee and she does so with such a tender regard for her plight. Pippa is middle-aged but yet she finds herself calling a retirement village her new home so that the needs of her aging husband (Alan Arkin) can be met with more ease. She allows her daughter (Zoe Kazan) to treat her like garbage. She even lets her friends completely abuse her trust and compassion. For no obviously apparent reason, as seems to be the most common reason in cases like these, her mind can take her inadvertent abuse no more and a younger Pippa Lee (played in flashbacks by the surprisingly focused, Blake Lively) fights furiously to take back control of her life.

Miller, who last directed her husband, Daniel Day-Lewis, in THE BALLAD OF JACK AND ROSE, has crafted a picture that is both poised and poignant. Thanks to her sensitive and delicate direction, the ensemble (rounded out by Keanu Reeves, Maria Bello, Winona Ryder and Julianne Moore) is able to create a circle around Wright Penn that is so strong and supportive, it allows for an actress who usually just fills out the circle to shine instead for a change. Subsequently, Pippa Lee gets the spotlight she has deserved all along.

Best of Black Sheep: BROKEN EMBRACES

Pedro Almodovar is arguably the most celebrated Spanish film director of all time and it is easy to see why with his latest, BROKEN EMBRACES. It opens on actors being prepared for a shoot while a camera frames them and watches them candidly before cutting directly to an extreme close up of an actual eye. The act of watching and the subsequent act of being watched will go on to shape the entire film and under Almodovar’s delicate and respectful eye, the shape it creates proves that his vision is only getting better with age.

While Almodovar may be directing the picture, it is Harry Caine (Lluis Homar) who is the director on screen. Only this director has lost his sight in an accident and now only writes, as if that is some lesser function. He plays narrator to the film we are watching and, like the man who invented him on page, he is one heck of a storyteller. BROKEN EMBRACES is a twisted thriller that ties a torrid love affair, a tormenting husband and a tortured son together and places it all behind the scenes of a film set. To further blur the lines between art and reality, Almodovar casts longtime muse, Penelope Cruz, as Caine’s source of inspiration. Like the man who propelled her into the international spotlight, Cruz is only getting better and more beautiful with time.

With BROKEN EMBRACES, Almodovar has created a richly layered work that requires a steady hand to be done right and, while his command is controlled and impressive, he comes off as playful and cool. Heightened by first time collaborator, Rodrigo Pietro’s deliberate and stunning cinematography, Almodovar has made another contemporary classic that will certainly earn him many more accolades and admirers by honouring his roots and the fans that have gotten him this far to begin with.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Black Sheep @ The Box Office: A Very Full Moon

You will have to excuse me; I was away on business. Now that I am back, I am exhausted so I will be doing nothing for the rest of that day. That said, I could not overlook what amounted to the third best opening of all time. THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON opened to the best opening day of all time on Friday with over $70 million and finished the weekend with roughly double that. Everyone knew it would be huge but who could have predicted this? The true test will be next weekend. Most fans caught it right away so next weekend will show how far past its fanbase the film will play.

In other box office news, Sandra Bullock has a great year with THE BLIND SIDE opening over $34 million, following her summer hit, THE PROPOSAL. PRECIOUS continues to expand to incredible numbers, almost increasing by 100% over last week after adding approximately 450 screens. There was nothing out of this world about PLANET 51's fourth place opening. Below the TOP 10, FANTASTIC MR. FOX took in another per screen average of nearly $50K before expanding to over 2000 screens next week. Werner Herzog's update of BAD LIEUTENANT starring Nicolas Cage brought in a mild per screen of just under $10K but good word of mouth could turn that around as it expands. And this week's biggest per screen average went to Pedro Almodovar's latest, BROKEN EMBRACES, pulling $54K on just 2 screens.

NEXT WEEK: Happy Thanksgiving everyone! John Travolta and Robin Williams are looking for WILD HOGS numbers with OLD DOGS opening on 3300 screens. James McTeigue, director of V FOR VENDETTA returns with NINJA ASSASSIN on 2500 screens. The critically acclaimed THE ROAD with Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron opens wide. And on the smaller end, character films like THE PRIVATE LIVES OF PIPPA LEE and ME AND ORSON WELLES open on a handful of screens and Disney platforms THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG on just two screens before going wide in December.


Friday, November 20, 2009


Written by Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach
Directed by Wes Anderson
Voices by George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray

Mr Fox: This is going to be a total cluster-cuss for everybody.

Let me just get this out of the way; Wes Anderson’s FANTASTIC MR. FOX is certainly aptly titled as the perfect word to describe it is simply, fantastic. This stop-motion Roald Dahl adaptation about man versus animal honours its roots and broadens its ideas into a contemporary family classic that is both insightful and yet still playful. In his first foray into animation, Anderson does not bend to the style but rather turns the style itself inside out to become the perfect compliment to his quirky and expressive nature.

Despite being fantastic, Mr. Fox (voiced by a spry George Clooney), has gotten himself and his neighbours into a hole they can’t get out of. After promising his wife, Mrs. Fox (a sly Meryl Streep), that he will never steal again once she announces that she is pregnant, Mr. Fox deliberately breaks that promise and angers the biggest farmers in town, Boggis, Bunce and Bean. The farmers drive the animals underground and they must come together to dig their way out. The battle is on and the delight with which Anderson seems to be having with it all, draws the viewer as deep into the depths of the film as the tunnels being dug on the screen.

While Anderson, along with THE SQUID AND THE WHALE writer, Noah Baumbach, infuse the screenplay with adult themes a plenty, from resisting your natural instincts to rising above the hand that feeds you, they create a pace that is delicate and quiet but never so much so that younger viewers will lose interest. Under Anderson’s always mindful and always expansive eye, FANTASTIC MR. FOX is as cunning and as sharp as one would expect a fox to be. It is its unexpected charm though that will make it Anderson’s most endearing work.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Best of Black Sheep: TWILIGHT

Written by Melissa Rosenberg
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke
Starring Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson

Edward Cullen: I wanted to kill you. I never wanted a human being’s blood so much.

It may occasionally sound like a vampire movie but TWILIGHT certainly doesn’t look like any vampire movie I’ve ever seen. For starters, some of these particular vampires are vegetarians. It is much less a movie about vampires as it a movie that just happens to have vampires. You might even say it is the BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN of vampire movies. This is not to say it is anywhere near as good; just that director Catherine Hardwicke cleared the path so that you could see the love and not just the blood lust one would expect. That love is shared between Bella and Edward (played by Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson). She just moved back to this tiny town to spend some time with her estranged father and he too just moved back to this same town after being away for a few decades. She is 17 and he looks like he’s 17 (he also looks like he’s ready for an all vampire cabaret revue with all that face makeup but that’s besides the point) but really he was born way back near the turn of the century, the last century. Doesn’t anyone else see something wrong with this picture? He could realistically be her great grandfather, people.

This is Bella’s story really and her perspective is what brings both sensitivity and assertive confidence to TWILIGHT. Bella’s relationship with her father is understandably tricky. Her newfound friends from school take some definite getting used to. And as if her life weren’t complicated enough already, what with the big move and the inevitable adjustment period, she just had to go and fall “hang upside down from the rafters” in love with a vampire. The best part about the somewhat ridiculous premise (I say somewhat because maybe vampires really do exist, even vegetarian ones), is that Hardwicke has grounded it firmly. Imagine a teenage movie where none of the “youngins” utter inspired brilliance every time they open their mouths. No, these folks are actually awkward; they actually don’t know what to say sometimes. And they actually live in a place where not everything they wear is right off the runway. All of this realism helps make the supernatural element all the more plausible but it also brings to light a couple of points of concern about the teenage girl.

TWILIGHT reinforces one of the most unfortunate clichés around these days. Every girl out there just really wants a bad boy. They don’t even care if they have admittedly drained innocent bodies of all their blood before. We should definitely make sure that the legions of young girls who see this film, or read the Stephanie Meyers book it is based upon, believe that love can resolve any obstacle, be that a difference of opinion, a disagreement or the distinct possibility that your boyfriend may one day wake in the middle of the night to find he can no longer resist the urge to drink your blood. It is easy to get sucked in to TWILIGHT’s lore (Get it? Sucked?) because we all have these distorted ideas of love ingrained inside of us but last I checked, a guy who sneaks into your room to watch you sleep is called a stalker, not a romantic. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from TWILIGHT though, it is that a teenage girl’s love is infinitely stronger than a vampire’s lust for blood. Oh, and that girls love all things that sparkle.

My apologies to the technical geeks and true fans out there. I had too much to say about this film to go into detail about all the blu-ray special features. I will just say that if you are a fan of this film, you will not be disappointed with which your admiration has been rewarded. There is feature commentary with the director and two leads; the behind the scenes featurettes go through most of the production stages and can be seen picture in picture on blu-ray (which, if you're like me and didn't know what that was before, means that you can watch the film and a separate screen will appear in the corner to give you information about the scene that is playing). On the whole, all the special features point towards the care with which this production came to life and how much it has meant to legions of fans. There are even music videos by Linkin Park and Paramore. You tell me, what more could a bloodthirsty teenage girl want?




Written by Ernest Lehman
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint and James Mason

In 1958, Alfred Hitchcock, considered by many in the industry to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest filmmaker of all time, released what many would also consider to be one of his greatest films off all time, VERTIGO. In 1960, Hitchcock released PSYCHO, perhaps his most infamous work. In between these two films, Hitchcock released one of his most stylish and ambitious projects, NORTH BY NORTHWEST. And with that, you have a period considered to be the most creative of his entire career.

While Hitchcock is often seen as larger than life, he is but a man, just like the man at the center of NORTH BY NORTHWEST, Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant). Thornhill, a fast-talking ad man in Manhattan thinks he’s flying high on life until the most mundane of events causes him to be mistaken for a man named Kaplan. From that moment on, he might as well be Kaplan as no one will believe him when he says he isn’t. As Thornhill suffers, ever so dashingly thanks to the debonair Mr. Grant, Hitchcock delights in every moment of it. In turn, his delight becomes ours.

NORTH BY NORTHWEST celebrates its 50th anniversary this year and Warner Bros. has released a newly restored version to commemorate not just this occasion but also Hitchcock’s HD debut. It has been packaged as one of their distinguished Blu-Ray books and the special features will please fans of the film while educating newcomers. There are two brand new behind the scenes features, one about the making of the film and one about the man behind the camera. Screenwriter, Ernest Lehman provides an insightful commentary track and Eva Marie Saint, Grant’s love interest in the film, gives you a first hand account of what it was like on the set. All of these special features and the handful of others I didn’t mention, are nothing in comparison though to the crisp restoration that ensures that NORTH BY NORTHWEST will go on to be appreciated for years to come.

Whether you’re on the edge of your seat during the airplane chase in the cornfield, completely taken with Grant And Saint’s playful exchange on the train or just plain floored by the magnitude of the climax on Mount Rushmore, there is no denying the place NORTH BY NORTHWEST holds in film history. It is iconic; it is memorable; and thanks to the genius that is Alfred Hitchcock, it is both a fine piece of cinema and also one heck of a good chase.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Black Sheep @ The Box Office: 2012 Flattens the Planet

The end of the world is a popular topic in film and television these days but no picture deals with it more directly or exploits our fear surrounding the subject more than 2012. I don't know what our fascination is with wanting to see potential scenarios for our demise but we are definitely fixed on it - 2012's $225 million global take is the 9th biggest in history. $65 million of that came from its domestic tickets, including my own. I caught the Roland Emmerich hit on Saturday morning and the theatre was packed. Did I mention it was morning? It must be bittersweet for Sony though. They have a huge hit on their hands but no possibility for a sequel.

If I were Oprah, I would be doin' a little dance right now. Her pet project, PRECIOUS, continued to devour everything in its indie path this weekend. After debuting to record breaking figures last week on just 18 screens, it managed to make the Top 5 on just 174 screens this weekend. Maintaining an excellent per screen average of $35K, PRECIOUS is redefining the traditional expectations of art house releases. As its wide release isn't even expected for another couple of weeks, it looks like PRECIOUS is going to be around for a while. Look out, Oscar!

The rest of the Top 10 saw a much needed strong hold for Disney's A CHRISTMAS CAROL, a significant loss of interest in MICHAEL JACKSON'S THIS IS IT and both PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and COUPLES RETREAT crossed the $100 million mark. The week's biggest per screen average went to a title outside the Top 10, despite the strong numbers posted by PRECIOUS and 2012. No, this week's highest per screen average was $65K and that was had by the wonderful, the tremendous, the FANTASTIC MR. FOX. Wes Anderson's first animated feature showed strong legs on four screens in NYC and L.A. and will try to steal away the rest of the country on Thanksgiving when it goes wide. Other indie successes this week include Oscar contender, THE MESSENGER ($12.5K on 4 screens) and AN EDUCATION continued to expand gracefully (a 24% increase on 37 new screens).

NEXT WEEK: Sandra Bullock shows off her southern side in THE BLIND SIDE (3100 screens) and PLANET 51 tries to pretend its a Pixar feature on 2600 screens but it doesn't matter. How could it when TWILIGHT: NEW MOON attacks over 4000 screens?


Saturday, November 14, 2009


An interview with director, Lee Daniels and star, Gabby Sidibe

Now that PRECIOUS has started playing in limited release, I will finally get an answer to something I’ve been wondering since I saw it last September. Will audiences choose to see a film in theatres knowing that it will likely kick them in the gut repeatedly, leaving them bloody and bruised on the floor? It broke records on 18 screens last weekend and unrolls onto another 174 screens this weekend. Lionsgate plans to push it to 600 screens in time for Thanksgiving, a holiday that Precious herself would never have had the opportunity to experience.

It has been selling out screenings all week so the future looks bright. I am both pleased and relieved by this. The biggest impact PRECIOUS has on its viewer is to bring a mirror to the viewer’s face, exposing a layer of ignorance so deep that the viewer may not even be aware of it prior. Precious is the kind of girl one walks right past in the street while casually judging her weight and making presumptions about who she is as a person. PRECIOUS forces you to think about how every person has a story that brought them to precisely where they are. The film has the potential wake people up, to make them more open but we cannot see how closed we are if we never walk past her to begin with.

When asked how he did it, director, Lee Daniels, attributes this effect to one specific approach in his direction. “I just tried to capture moments of truth.” And the truth subsequently follows through on its promise to set things free.

These moments of truth depended on Daniels getting his cast to understand their characters’ truths and with a cast that consists of an unknown, a comedienne and a diva, that could not have been easy.

“I knew exactly what I wanted from every one,” Daniels answers when asked about the eclectic cast. “I knew when I hired them what I was going to get.”

I’m glad he knew because I would never have suspected that any of these actors were capable of pulling the sincerity from their souls that they did. In fact, I would never have necessarily referred to a couple of them as actual actors. Again though, it is about opening your mind and that is clearly what Daniels got them to do.

“Mr. Daniels and I had so many conversations about who this character was and that helped me get it,” Precious herself, Gabby Sidibe, admits when asked how she found this character. Her trust in her director was so strong she even refused to talk to the author of the original book, Sapphire, prior to filming. “I didn’t want any different direction about who this character was. The creator of this character, she really could have thrown me off.”

With that much trust in the captain, how exactly does he run his ship? “When I am doing a film, it is very much like a theatre piece,” Lee begins. “There are no egos except mine.” Having worked in theatre, I can attest that this is pretty much the only way it comes together but does Daniels seriously expect me to believe that Mariah or Mo’Nique left their egos at home?

“Mariah came with zero – no posse, no makeup – and she remained that way. She was putting makeup on Gabby. Mo’Nique was feeding people at the service table.” Daniels beams with pride as he tells me this. “It was a union nightmare but I believed that we were one. I think that’s the magic of the film.”

With material as difficult as this, I cannot imagine the cast not bonding. If anything, they would need to in order to just get through it all. Still, it could not have been an easy set to be on.

“The air was stale and shady sometimes,” admits Sidibe. “Most of the time, Mr. Daniels would call cut and we would laugh. With other scenes though, between takes we would just sit there and avoid eye contact.”

Daniels remembers it the same way but he seems as if part of him is still there. “I get transported back into just being there,” Daniels confides but not before getting choked up and noticeably emotional. “It was a very powerful thing, to just let the material speak for itself.”

So what is the secret formula to make something as tricky as this work so beautifully? “Anything to get the performance!” Daniels proclaims before getting specific about his technique. “I didn’t want tears at all. By not wanting tears, we got the truth. So by not directing them, I did direct them. I knew that if we were just in the moment, then it would happen.”

I will point out at this stage that there are plenty of tears in PRECIOUS. Daniels may not have asked for them but he still got them.

Mariah and Mo’Nique aside, Sidibe, the only actor coming in with zero experience, is perhaps his greatest achievement. The performance he pulled from her is so transformative that when I met her in person, I was myself floored by her outgoing personality. I never saw that coming.

“I don’t know if I can yet say that I am proud of myself because I can’t really see that yet,” Sidibe earnestly confides. “It feels like such a conceited notion to be proud of yourself. It is a completely different girl up there though.”

This whole other girl is changing the lives of everyone she comes in contact with. But has Precious and the subsequent whirlwind the film has been picked up into changed the girl who brought her to life?

“No,” Sidibe asserts by tacking on at least ten more O’s on the end of that word. “There are maybe ten days out of the year where I’m a big deal so this is still something big for me.”

Wait until you hear your name called out for an Oscar nomination, Gabby. Talk to me then.

It was a pleasure meeting both of these talented, appreciative people. I urge anyone who reads this to see PRECIOUS when it plays in your city. We all need to be set free.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Interviews with PRECIOUS director, Lee Daniels and star, Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe

It didn’t always have this name. Back in 1996, when Claireece “Precious” Jones was first introduced to the world, it had another name altogether. Back then, it was a book and it was called “Push”. It was still called “Push” when its film incarnation debuted at the Sundance film festival in January of this year. In fact, it was still called “Push” when it went on to win both the audience and the critic’s award at that festival, a rare feat. It was only then that things changed. It had moved people; it had floored them. It was then that “Push” became “Precious”.

More specifically, the film adaptation of Sapphire’s acclaimed novel is called PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL “PUSH” BY SAPPHIRE. And to be fair, the name change did not come about because the new title was more emotionally evocative than the original. A superhero movie called PUSH that came and went pretty quick this spring owned the rights to that name so it was necessary to change it when Lionsgate came on as North American distributor at Sundance. I personally prefer the new title.

“Really? I was so hurt by the change.” This is the first thing that Gabourey Sidibe says to me when we meet at the Toronto International Film Festival. Things are off to a great start.

When a little known film producer named Lee Daniels first approached Sapphire about adapting the novel that meant so much to so many, she wanted nothing to do with him. It wasn’t until he had some concrete experience directing (his first feature was the critically panned, SHADOWBOXER, starring Helen Mirren and Cuba Gooding Jr.) that she even allowed herself to consider his request. Sapphire appreciated Daniels’ seemingly natural interest in difficult subjects – Daniels had previously produced THE WOODSMAN and MONSTER’S BALL – and figured him the best man for the job.

Once Daniels had the rights, he was not letting go of the direction he wanted to take. “I had fought so long to get to do PRECIOUS. I knew what I wanted and what I was doing. I didn’t care what anybody else said,” Daniels tells me when we meet at TIFF. “It was my book. It was my story.”

While this may at first sound somewhat arrogant, I assure you there is nothing remotely smug about Daniels. In person, he is self-effacing and clearly overwhelmed by the heaps of praise both he and the film have received. He is also warm, receptive and surprisingly candid, whether he is talking about the film, his cast or himself.

Daniels worked with first time screenwriter, Geoffrey Fletcher, to adapt Sapphire’s harrowing stream-of-consciousness novel. It was not easy. “If I had done the book the way it is written, it would be x-rated,” he proclaims rather starkly. “Sapphire’s book delves deep into the truth and stays there. Just when you think you can’t take it anymore, she just goes right back there.”

To alleviate some of the tension the novel manifests, which is not to suggest that Daniels and Fletcher sugarcoated any aspect of it, they included a fantasy world for Precious to escape to whenever necessary. This is the most significant departure from page to screen and, so far, enthusiasts of the novel have not had any major issue with the addition. Of course, everyone involved in the project wanted to honour the book and its fans. “Being a fan of the book, I just really, really wanted to get it right,” confides Sidibe, perhaps the person with the most pressure to perform after Daniels himself. “I wanted to stay true as a fan myself,” she continues. “I hate it when adaptations don’t get it right.”

To meet Sidibe in person is mind-blowing. How could this jovial, delightful girl have transformed herself into such an introvert? Sidibe landed this demanding role in what seemed to her like the blink of an eye. “There weren’t a lot of girls who met the physical requirements of the role,” she quips as if her weight, which was beefed up an extra seventy pounds prosthetically during filming, was the only reason she got the role. “Monday was the audition; Tuesday was the callback; Wednesday I got the part without having to audition again.” Sidibe had responded to an open casting call in Manhattan and prior to this, she had only appeared in some college theatre productions. She seemed destined for this part and now she is an Oscar front-runner. Not bad for her first role.

Destiny, whether that be a great personal triumph or a great tragedy, is central to PRECIOUS. And right now, it would seem that PRECIOUS is destined to reach many people and move even more. Of course, lots of movies move people on a regular basis but PRECIOUS is different. PRECIOUS is an experience that most infrequent filmgoers are unaccustomed to. It deals with illiteracy, poverty, abuse of all kinds, teen pregnancy and incest. When was the last time the masses came out for something like that?

Suddenly, the girl that everyone would walk right past in the street without noticing is the one that everyone wants to see. And who do we have to thank for that? Oprah, of course.

Oprah Winfrey and independent movie mogul, Tyler Perry, both signed on as executive producers after PRECIOUS premiered at Sundance. As a result, the attention the film is getting is almost deafening. It was honoured with standing ovations at Cannes. It won the Audience Award at TIFF. It broke records for limited releases when it hit theatres last weekend, pulling in nearly $2 million on just 18 screens. A Best Picture nomination is almost guaranteed.

How does this affect the director? “I am humbled by all of it,” Daniels states with sincerity and cracks in his voice. “I have to embrace this moment, savour it. That is ultimately what PRECIOUS is all about, appreciating what you have.”

Imagine, there’s only more greatness to come.

(Part Two of Black Sheep’s PRECIOUS feature will run tomorrow.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Written by Geoffrey Fletcher
Directed by Lee Daniels
Starring Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz

By now, you have certainly heard about PRECIOUS. It is certainly connecting with people in an inspired fashion and Black Sheep Reviews will be taking a closer look at the Lee Daniels film over the course of the next few days. PRECIOUS has had an incredible journey and Black Sheep will break that down for you with interviews with the film's director and its star, Gabourey Sidibe. For now, here are my initial thoughts on the film when I caught it at this year's Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award.

Changing the name from “Push” to “Precious” was a smart thing for Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry to do after theysigned on as executive producers on this one. If there is one thing that Lee Daniels’ PRECIOUS does, it reminds you just how that word applies to life. No matter how bad you thought you might have it before you see this movie, you will think you’re living large by the time it is over. And the best thing about PRECIOUS is that it doesn’t ask us for our sympathy, it inspires it.

Newcomer, Gabby Sidibe, plays the title character. At 16 years old, she can barely read, she is seriously overweight and is pregnant with her second child. She lives with her mother (Mo’Nique), who sees her more as a means to get bigger welfare cheques and much less an actual daughter. She treats her with even less respect than that, if you can believe it. I am only scratching the surface here. Precious has problems that I cannot even imagine and the stark manner in which Daniels lets bomb after bomb drop on the Harlem circa 1987 setting not only shakes you out of your comfort with the film but also with yourself.

PRECIOUS boasts incredible performances from the entire cast – including smaller parts from The View’s Sheri Shephard and a completely stripped down Mariah Carey as a lowly cubicle social worker. (Diva even has a mustache!) It is the mother/daughter dueling between Mo’Nique and Sidibe that will be getting the most attention though and deservedly so. Their relationship is so strained but these two actors fill the wide space between them with complexities so deep that you are not comfortable being in the same room as both of them. Novice director, Daniels has guided some of the most unexpected and delicate performances of the year.

Ordinarily, modern human nature dictates that we should look away from such hardship – that matters like these are private ones and we have no business getting involved. Of course, this is just an excuse we tell ourselves so that we don’t actually have to get involved. PRECIOUS doesn’t allow you to look the other way though. More importantly, it reminds us that problems do not belong to one but to all and that everything is a gift of the universe.