Saturday, February 27, 2010

For Your Consideration 2010

Anybody who knows me, knows that I will take any opportunity to make a new mix CD. This would explain how I'm well past ten years of compilations entitled, "For Your Consideration". This particular mix gets made every year around this time to coincide with the Oscars and features music from the movies of the year prior. I try to include music that represents all the films I loved from the year but that doesn't always work with the flow of the CD. That's why every year, and this year is no different, there are songs included from movies that I didn't care for (NEW MOON, MY SISTER'S KEEPER) and music from movies I adored (WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, (500) DAYS OF SUMMER).

I am sharing this year's playlist with you in hopes that you too will piece these songs together and enjoy the tunes as your Oscar party guests arrive for the red carpet. I hope you like it.


1. A Story of Boy Meets Girl ~ Mychael Danna and Rob Simonsen (500 DAYS OF SUMMER)
2. Us ~ Regina Spektor (500 DAYS OF SUMMER)
3. Married Life ~ Michael Giacchino (UP)
4. Almost There ~ Anika Noni Rose (THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG)
5. The Times They Are A-Changin' ~ Bob Dylan (WATCHMEN)
6. All my Days ~ Alexi Murdoch (AWAY WE GO)
7. Ten Million Slaves ~ Otis Taylor (PUBLIC ENEMIES)
8. Hearing Damage ~ Thom Yorke (THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON)
9. Smoke Without Fire ~ Duffy (AN EDUCATION)
10. Love ~ Nancy Adams (FANTASTIC MR. FOX)
11. Someone Else's Life ~ Joshua Radin (ADAM)
12. Help Yourself ~ Sad Brad Smith (UP IN THE AIR)
13. All Is Love ~ Karen O and the Kids (from WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE)
14. Be Italian ~ Fergie (NINE)
15. Daydreams ~ Abel Korzeniowski (A SINGLE MAN)
16. Great Day ~ Paul McCartney (FUNNY PEOPLE)
17. Amazing Grace ~ Willie Nelson (THE MESSENGER)
18. I Can See in Color ~ Mary J. Blige (PRECIOUS)
19. The Weary Kind ~ Ryan Bingham (CRAZY HEART)
20. She's Out of my Life (demo version) ~ Michael Jackson (THIS IS IT)
21. Feels Like Home ~ Edwina Hayes (MY SISTER'S KEEPER)
22. Out Here On My Own ~ Naturi Naughton (FAME)

Go ahead, download the cover while you're at it! Enjoy.

Shearing the Oscars: Best Screenplay

Looking for some light reading this weekend? Black Sheep has managed to dig up half of the Oscar-nominated screenplays on the web and would love to share those links with you right now. Yes, reading the screenplay doesn't really give you an edge when it comes to deciding who should win but it is a nice little treat.

The Writers Guild of America has already made up their minds in both the adapted and original screenplay categories and they have declared that UP IN THE AIR and THE HURT LOCKER should be the winners in their respective fields. When it comes to the Adapted Screenplay field, I think the Guild got it right; writers, Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, need to take something home for the film and this is its best chance at this point. Goeffrey Fletcher could potentially upset for PRECIOUS but the Academy is far more likely to shower that film in the acting categories. Mark Boal though has some stiff competition in the Original Screenplay category as his HURT LOCKER script's fiercest competition is Quentin Tarantino. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS will struggle in all other categories except Supporting Actor and the Academy may be looking to reward one of its greatest contemporary directors for one of his finest works. So there are safe bets but no sure things here.

The following is a list of nominees in each category and a little quote from each screenplay. Click on the film title itself for the original Black Sheep Review. Click on DOWNLOAD THE SCREENPLAY to well, uh, do just that (you will be redirected to another site and can download the PDF there).



Staff Seargeant William James: [Speaking to his son] You love playing with that. You love playing with all your stuffed animals. You love your Mommy, your Daddy. You love your pajamas. You love everything, don't ya? Yea. But you know what, buddy? As you get older... some of the things you love might not seem so special anymore. Like your Jack-in-a-Box. Maybe you'll realize it's just a piece of tin and a stuffed animal. And then you forget the few things you really love. And by the time you get to my age, maybe it's only one or two things. With me, I think it's one.


Lt. Aldo Raine: [Aldo shoots Hans' driver Hermann, and gives Utivich a knife] Scalp Hermann.
Col. Hans Landa: Are you mad? What have you done? I made a deal with your general for that man's life!
Lt. Aldo Raine: Yeah, they made that deal, but they don't give a fuck about him. They need you.
Col. Hans Landa: You'll be shot for this!
Lt. Aldo Raine: Nah, I don't think so. More like chewed out. I've been chewed out before.

THE MESSENGER, Written by Oren Moverman and Alessandro Camon

Captain Tony Stone: Men don't ask for directions, especially soldiers.

A SERIOUS MAN, Written by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen - DOWNLOAD THE SCREENPLAY

Friend at the Picnic: Sometimes these things just aren't meant to be. And it can take a while before you feel what was always there, for better or worse.
Larry Gopnik: I never felt it! It was a bolt from the blue! What does that mean! Everything that I thought was one way turns out to be another.
Friend at the Picnic: Then-it's an opportunity to learn how things really are. I'm sorry-I don't mean to sound glib. It's not always easy, deciphering what God is trying to tell you.
Larry Gopnik: I'll say.
Friend at the Picnic: But it's not something you have to figure out all by yourself. We're Jews, we have that well of tradition to draw on, to help us understand. When we're puzzled we have all the stories that have been handed down from people who had the same problems.

UP, Written by Bob Peterson, Pete Doctor and Tom McCarthy

Russell: I've never been in a floating house before.
[Russell sees a picture of Ellie and laughs]
Russell: Goggles. Look at this stuff. Wow! You're going on a trip?
[Russell picks up a picture of Paradise Falls and reads from it]
Russell: "Paradise Falls, a land lost in time." You're going to South America, Mr. Fredricksen?
[Carl grabs the picture from Russell]
Carl Fredricksen: Don't touch that! You'll soil it.
Russell: You know, most people take a plane, but you're smart because you'll have all your TV and clocks and stuff.


DISTRICT 9, Written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell

Wikus Van De Merwe: [giving an Alien reproductive apparatus to co-worker] Here, you can take that, you want to keep that, as a souvenir of your first abortion, ay. You can feel like you've done one of these too.
Thomas: [beaming] Thanks, boss!


Jenny: I don't want to lose my virginity to a piece of fruit.

IN THE LOOP, Written by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci and Tony Roche

Simon Foster: It'll be easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.
Toby Wright: No, it won't. It'll be difficult-difficult-lemon-difficult.

PRECIOUS, Written by Geoffrey Fletcher - DOWNLOAD THE SCREENPLAY

Clareece 'Precious' Jones: Some folks has a lot of things around them that shines for other peoples. I think that maybe some of them was in tunnels. And in that tunnel, the only light they had, was inside of them. And then long after they escape that tunnel, they still be shining for everybody else.

UP IN THE AIR, Written by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner

Ryan Bingham: All the things you probably hate about travelling -the recycled air, the artificial lighting, the digital juice dispensers, the cheap sushi- are warm reminders that I'm home

Next up for Black Sheep's Oscar coverage, Black Sheep gets musical with a playlist for your pre-show Oscar party.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Written by Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman
Directed by Oren Moverman
Starring Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson and Samantha Morton

Dale Martin: Why are you here? Why aren’t you dead?

THE MESSENGER opens on an eye. This is an eye that has clearly been through difficult terrain and has seen its fair share of unnecessary horror. Its sadness and despair hang in its pupil, weighting in down as the tears inevitably fall from the corners. The worst of it is, that this eye hasn’t seen anything yet.

The eye to this particular world belongs to Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster). Will has been wounded in batter in Iraq and has been sent back to the United States to take on new responsibilities while he heals and completes the duration of his term with the army. Let alone that he doesn’t want to be back to begin with, he soon gets an assignment that he can’t stand. It is now his job to announce the deaths of American soldiers to their next of kin with the deepest of sympathies from the U.S. government. To you or me, this might seem like a relief but it isn’t long before Will wants back in the field.

He is literally the bearer of bad news and this is a burden that is shouldered bravely and strongly by a mature Foster. As Will, he is more contained than usual, holding his angst inside instead of letting it all out spastically. Like the character he is playing, Foster appears to have lived a little more and subsequently learned some more about life’s hardships. Working opposite veteran character actors, Woody Harrelson and Samantha Morton, certainly doesn’t hurt either. Harrelson is his commanding officer and his own command of his internal conflict reminds us just how dynamic he is as an actor. Morton meanwhile pulls out a heartbreaking performance out of very little screen time as a new widow, unsure of how to proceed with her life.

Foster’s newfound control is certainly put to good use in THE MESSENGER. The army has a very strict policy about how the news of a dead soldier is to be delivered. First of all, it must be done in a timely fashion. With so many ways to get news out there today, if the army doesn’t get to the next of kin fast enough, they could just end up seeing live footage of the death online. Secondly, the job is to deliver the news, offer condolences and provide direction for the bereaved. At no time though is one allowed to console with a comforting touch. The worst news imaginable is delivered and sympathy is expressed but never shown.

Naturally, the news is never taken that well. Whoever hears it can sense that whoever is delivering it isn’t as sincere as they appear. The same can be said for first time director, Oren Moverman. Moverman presents himself as another messenger, just of a different kind. As THE MESSENGER exposes the desolate lack of emotion expressed by the army at these horrifying moments, Moverman hopes that we too will get his message of futility. Unfortunately, despite some great moments and performances, it is just as easy to see through Moverman as it is to see through the army.

Best of Black Sheep: FANTASTIC MR. FOX

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.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Best of Black Sheep: CORALINE

Written and Directed by Henry Selick
Voices by Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French and Ian McShane

Coraline Jones: How can you walk away from something and then come towards it?
Cat: Walk around the world.
Coraline Jones: Small world.

I am not now nor have I ever been a ten-year-old girl. As a result, it is not so easy for me to get my mind in line with the pony loving thought process of this particular demographic. I am however, an admirer of animation and artistry. I may have been down by one when I sat to watch, CORALINE, Henry Selick’s long awaited follow up to the delectable, THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, but at least I was bringing something to the table. What Selick brought was so much more delicious though. CORALINE is a wondrous experience. Its intricate, stop-motion style is inspired and the first of its kind to be shot entirely in 3D. And while its extravagantly colorful range is most certainly captivating, I still sat there somewhat puzzled. This quirky adventure was certainly new but what did it all mean?

Based on cult-favorite, Neil Gaiman’s cherished novella, CORALINE is about a young girl who has just moved to what seems like the middle of nowhere. Her parents, while well intentioned, do not have time for her. Instead, all they have time for is figuring out how to pay their bills – an animated film for the new economic crisis plagued world. And so, little Coraline, a spunky twig of a character who is voiced with an impressively fresh child-like strength by Dakota Fanning, sets out to find her own place in the world. What she finds is an entire alternative universe, somewhere at the end of a tiny tunnel she stumbles upon in her new living room. It is the world she knows but everything is eerily different, seemingly better in every regard. The most strikingly odd thing about this new world though is how everyone has buttons for eyes and if Coraline wants to stay in this world where she gets everything she wants, then she too will have to have her eyes sewn shut. Dark? Definitely. It is also blatantly symbolic and yet it all remains unexplained. Of course nothing is what it appears to be. The grass isn’t always greener apparently, even though Selick paints it so.

I am torn here. I don’t like when filmmakers spell everything out to me but it doesn’t seem to me that CORALINE is rooted in anything seriously meaningful at all other than the aforementioned greener grass cliché. The truth is that it doesn’t genuinely have to have a deeper meaning. Perhaps if I could think like a little girl, I would just enjoy Coraline’s unexpected and exciting journey. Try as I might though, I cannot fully. I guess, in order for me personally to appreciate the depth all of this beautiful animation conjures for itself, I’d still like a little lesson learned with my children’s story.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Blu-Tuesday: February 23

It is a busy day for both Blu-Ray and DVD today. There are some excellent releases, some that just look horrible and some other releases that I can confirm actually are horrible. With so many titles to look at, we best get to it.


I love Steven Soderbergh. THE INFORMANT! was his second release from last year, after the summer art house entry, THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE. It was actually his fourth film of the year if you count his CHE films as two and consider that they only hit most theatres in 2009. THE INFORMANT!, based on the true story of corporate whistle blower, Mark Whitacre, is by far, his breeziest entry. Soderbergh, along with a jovial and exuberant, Matt Damon, seems to just be having a lot of fun with this one. THE INFORMANT! is the kind of fresh, adult comedy that Hollywood needs to make more of.


Here is another true story and another unfortunately under appreciated film. Director Tom Hooper first impressed me with his incredibly meticulous work on the HBO mini-series, JOHN ADAMS. Here he enlists the underrated Michael Sheen to play famed British soccer coach, Brian Clough, as well as writer, Peter Morgan (THE QUEEN, FROST/NIXON) to pen the script. Morgan clearly knows how to write for Sheen as this is their third feature film together. THE DAMNED UNITED is a good, fun sports film with a very human heart keeping it alive.


This 2009 documentary about famed ice queen and fashionsita, Anna Wintour, is only available on DVD. I had the chance to see it finally last week and it was a delight for me to go behind the scenes at Vogue magazine to see how their infamous September issue is put together. The funny part is that I don't even really care about fashion but the film kept me focused despite this because of the drama that goes on there. My only complaint is that there wasn't enough Wintour. My assumption is that director, R. J. Cutler, was not able to crack her and had to fill the rest of the film with Vogue's supporting team. Thankfully, all of it is way too glamourous to feel like filler.


This Showtime television series is just starting its second season and its first season is now available on BD. I started watching it last Friday night and finished all 12 episodes by the next day. I just could not stop watching. Addictive is the best way to describe it and when you see it, and you should see it, you will see why addictive works on so many levels. For a full review of the show, please click the link to read what I wrote for Exclaim!


I don't want to say too much about this movie by DONNIE DARKO director, Richard Kelly, because the good people at Warner Brothers were kind enough to send me a free copy. I must say though that THE BOX is one of the worst movies I have ever seen. It is one of those great, big messes that starts showing signs of woe about two minutes in and just gets worse and worse from there. It is one strange decision after another and an incredibly infuriating film to endure. I urge you; don't waste your time on this one. There is nothing interesting inside this box.


(2009 - Directed by Paul Weitz and starring John C. Reilly & Selma Hayek))

(2009 - Directed by Mike Clattenburg)

(2009 - Directed by Kirk Jones and starring Robert De Niro and Drew Barrymore

Monday, February 22, 2010

Best of Black Sheep: UP

Written by Pete Docter and Bob Peterson
Directed by Pete Docter
Voices by Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer and Jordan Nagai

Charles Muntz: Adventure is out there!

On paper, Pixar’s tenth feature film, UP!, doesn’t make a lot of sense. A 78-year-old grump of a man named Mr. Frederickson (voiced by Ed Asner) fills thousands of balloons in the home he’s been living in his entire adult life and these balloons literally uproot his house from its foundation and carry it high into the sky. To complicate matters further, an over eager 8-year-old wilderness explorer named Russell (Jordan Nagai) has stowed away under the porch. Together, they must navigate this unlikely flying machine to South America so that Mr. Frederickson can find adventure before it’s too late. It sounds like an uphill battle to me but this is why it makes such perfect sense for UP! to come along when it has. There could be no better way to commemorate this Pixar milestone than with a film that inherently requires an imagination as lofty as the boundless sky to get it off the ground.

UP! is consistently unexpected. It is uproarious one minute and then uplifting the next. Director, Pete Docter (MONSTERS INC), along with his co-director, Bob Peterson, and indie director, Tom McCarthy, put together an improbable scenario and gave a rock solid foundation to a story that barely spends any time on the ground. Not too dissimilar to McCarthy’s THE VISITOR, Mr. Frederickson comes from a different era. He met his wife Ellie when he was just a wee lad and they went on to spend their entire lives together, the up’s and down’s of which are strung together in a touching montage that shows sorrowful realities that are usually left out of animated films. With the love of his life now gone, Mr. Frederickson no longer understands the world around him. He merely sees how he has no place in it and suddenly feels as though it has all been wasted time.

As Mr. Frederickson and Russell coast alongside the clouds, so do we on this 3D adventure. It certainly cannot be called facile but UP! has a certain breeziness to it, as though Docter has been driving his own house in the sky for ages now. There are some minor moments of turbulence (one talking dog is fine – especially when it is as adorable as Doug, voiced by co-writer, Peterson – a large pack of talking dogs is a little too, well, Disney for my tastes) but you never lose faith in your captain. Docter is smart to infuse UP! with themes but even smarter to know never to allow these themes to upstage his characters and their journey. Mr. Frederickson is an uptight, old crank but he is also a sensitive and loving husband. Russell is a clueless little boy but he means well and has his own issues with an absent father. Authentic and unwavering, they cannot help but influence the other while their up and coming friendship inspires us.

With the bar raised so high by their past efforts, Pixar needed UP! to reach the sky to get over it this time. Its upbeat tone and upstanding quality allow it to glide right on over that bar and its unpredictable path make the experience adventuresome, exhilarating and unforgettable. It is everything you would expect to feel if you suddenly found yourself in a flying house, which is to say nothing at all and everything all at once. After conquering both the vast ocean and the infinite space in outer space, Pixar can now proudly say that they rule the sky as well.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Shearing the Oscars: Animated Feature

This is a big year for the Animated Feature Oscar. For the first year since it originated in 2001, there were enough films released in the Academy calendar year to warrant expanding the number of nominees from the usual three to the maximum five. With Pixar's UP leading the category as the frontrunner, the expansion might not lead to an unexpected winner but it has already brought about one of the year's biggest surprise nominations, the very little known, THE SECRET OF KELLS. The unexpected inclusion meant big studio hopeful CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS and past winner, Hayao Miyazaki's PONYO were shut out. Let's take a look now at what did make the cut.


There is no denying the artistry of, CORALINE, Henry Selick's miniature epic. Not only is the stop-motion animation technique used so brilliantly, in both a creative and technical fashion, but the tale itself, based on the Neil Gaiman story, is genuinely original. While the film clearly connected with art enthusiasts and young girls, it may have been inherently too cold to remain fresh in voters' minds a year later. It has been honoured as one of the American Film Institute's Top 10 films of the year but this will not be Selick's year for Oscar as well


Wes Anderson's magical masterpiece, FANTASTIC MR. FOX, is the next biggest threat in this category. It is the only other nominee aside from UP to find its screenplay, co-written by Anderson and indie filmmaker, Noah Baumbach, honoured by critics' associations. The film's score, composed by Alexandre Desplat is also nominated for an Oscar. The National Board of Review even awarded Wes Anderson a special acheivement award for creating such a brave, new approach to animated film. All of these factors could push FOX past Pixar but it will have to dig a lot deeper still to get up as high as Pixar is.


Disney was pushing two films for this category aside from UP, the aforementioned PONYO and their first 2D animation in years, THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG. Between the two, the latter is certainly the easier choice. Unfortunately, in my opinion, while I do feel Disney was able to get back to its roots with their fresh take on this classic tale, they did not do anything past presenting their first African-American princess to modernize their tested formula. They even brought Randy Newman back to compose a few diddies and, nothing against the perfectly acceptable songs, the Academy honoured him as well. This is a safe entry but no actual threat.


GKIDS, the U.S. distributor for THE SECRET OF KELLS, opened their mostly hand-drawn fable in one Los Angeles theatre for one little week last year so that their film could be eligible for Academy consideration. Once they passed that hurdle, they held Academy screenings and shipped out screeners but did nothing really more to push their film. As it somehow managed to score a nod alongside these other films with distributors with deep wallets, the film must be pretty good. I cannot say, personally, as I'm one of the millions who hasn't seen it. Although I doubt it can pull off the impossible and take the win here, it's planned spring release will definitely be much more fruitful than I'm sure GKIDS ever imagined.


It is so easy to say great things about Pixar. I could not believe they pulled this one off, to be honest. And when I realized after seeing it that they had, I could not really believe I ever doubted them. Pixar hasn't always won over the hearts of the Academy though. MONSTERS INC lost the inaugural Animated Feature award to SHREK and CARS lost to HAPPY FEET in 2006. Those two weren't also nominated for Best Picture though. Besides, they have won four out of the last eight years so it isn't that a big a stretch to see them taking it a fifth time. It's no bigger stretch than a rickety old man and a boy scout flying high above the world in house attached to hundreds of helium balloons anyway.



Next up in Black Sheep's Academy Awards spotlight, it's time to get down to the written word and look at this year's nominees in the writing categories. That's next weekend. In the meantime, Black Sheep reposts full reviews for some of the nominated animated features all week.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


Written by Laeta Kalogridis
Directed by Martin Scorcese
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer and Ben Kingsley

Warden: If I were to sink my teeth into your eye right now, would you be able to stop me before going blind?

From the moment this ominous ferry emerges from the thick fog to bring Federal Marshalls, Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule (Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo) to Shutter Island in the opening shots of legendary director, Martin Scorcese’s SHUTTER ISLAND, you know you’re about to watch a masterful movie made by a mindful man. It is instantly and unavoidably intriguing and it isn’t long after the boat docks that you realize you have as little chance of getting off this island as everyone else there, at least not with your wits about you.

Teddy and Chuck are on assignment to investigate a missing prisoner, I mean, patient, on Shutter Island. The mistake and the correction are made a number of times in the film as it is simply never really clear whether Shutter Island is a correctional facility or a mental facility. Whether there even should be a distinction for these particular prisoner-patients is up for debate just like the intentions of every character we meet on this island. Scorcese makes it so every man on the island is out for himself; even Teddy and Chuck just met as new partners on the ferry over. Subsequently, paranoia and mistrust run rampant in everyone’s mind and each day becomes a balancing act with each person’s personal sanity walking a very tight rope.

SHUTTER ISLAND takes place in 1954, when applied psychology was at a distinct crossroads between older, more barbaric means of treatment and more modern prescription methods to dealing with madness. One of the head doctors on Shutter Island, Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) claims to not subscribe to either school of thought in favour of a more sympathetic approach that relies on the belief that it is actually possible to get through to the mind of a mad man. Despite this, he will not allow Teddy and Chuck to enter the heavily-guarded Ward C, where only the most dangerous, uh, patients are housed. This lack of full disclosure makes it hard to imagine that everything happening on this island is happening according to protocol. Perhaps it is but then what is the established island protocol anyway?

It becomes clear to Teddy that his time on Shutter Island is not meant to be limited to just this investigation. A case is being built against him to show him as just as crazy as every other patient there, effectively silencing any evidence he uncovers in his investigation. But while it may be clear to Teddy, it becomes pretty clear to the audience that nothing on Shutter Island is as it seems. What is the truth and who is actually telling it? Better yet, will we even believe it when we hear it? The answers do come and they are as unsettling as every other moment in this tight two and a half hour production.

As it is put forth a few times in SHUTTER ISLAND, to accuse someone of being insane is truly all you need to do to make it a fact. All protest made by the accused will be seen as logical dismissal of the accusation but not a valid argument against it. Scorcese knows the same rational will apply to the way the viewer will see the film, making visiting SHUTTER ISLAND such a deliberate and delicate mind trip. You may even wonder in fact whether you too don’t belong there by the end. This is what makes Scorcese the undisputed winner of his own elaborately designed game.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Best of Black Sheep: UP IN THE AIR

Written by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner
Directed by Jason Reitman
Starring George Clooney, Anna Kendrick, Vera Farmiga and Jason Bateman

Ryan Bingham: To know me is to fly with me. This is where I live.

It isn’t as easy as you might think but writer/director, Jason Reitman has managed to make it into the mile high club on just his third attempt. Though the Oscar-nominated director is still a novice by most standard definitions of the word, his latest, UP IN THE AIR, soars with such grace and ease that you would think he has been piloting these birds for ages now. Sure he has the familial pedigree in his back pocket (Daddy’s name is Ivan, in case you didn’t know) but it is his personal track record that continues to impress. His debut, THANK YOU FOR SMOKING was well, smoking; and his follow-up, JUNO, made him one of the most sought after directors of the day. He is taking a decidedly more adult flight path with his return and, though I appreciated the maturity he brought to the teenage world of JUNO, I am happy to see UP IN THE AIR is an adult-only flight.

Upon take-off, Reitman takes us straight to the skies. In fact, all you can hear is the serene sound of nothing but air as you glide above the clouds. When you look down, you see the states from above, accompanied by a funked out version of “This Land Is Your Land”. Looking down on the land, it looks so pristine and lustrous. The orderly lines that divide the grounds and the huddled masses of tall buildings look to provide a solid structure in which to foster those American dreams everyone is always talking about. But when the plane lands, it becomes pretty clear pretty quick that life on the ground is an illusion to those looking down on it. On the ground, America is crumbling. People are losing their jobs, their security and their hope. This is where “he” comes in …

A passenger on this flight and our humbled protagonist, is George Clooney, I mean, Ryan Bingham. I get them confused because they both seem to be aging players who have refused their entire lives to ever being weighed down by anything or anyone. Clooney of course is one of the most famous bachelors on the planet. Ryan may not be famous but he is famous to those who do know him for keeping himself up in the air, if you will, as often as he can. Ryan travels across the United States and fires people for a living. He shows up at an office and calls people he has never met in one by one to tell them that their position no longer exists because these companies don’t have the decency to do it themselves. When he isn’t telling people that they no longer have the means to support their families, he moonlights as a motivational speaker who insists that families are life’s biggest trap.

Ryan is still a likeable guy despite all these things. He doesn’t get off on firing people; it is just how he makes his living and it affords him the lifestyle that suits him best. Another reason he endears is because Clooney plays him so smoothly. You could say it isn’t much of a stretch for him but playing Ryan and going through everything he does means seeing a Clooney that is finally accepting his own mortality and questioning what kind of meaning his later years will hold for him. When his boss (Jason Bateman) informs him that his job may become locally executed, Ryan realizes that his grounding means that life will finally stop moving at 500 miles an hour. Meanwhile, the girl he is showing the professional ropes to (Anna Kendrick) reminds him of what it means to be young and how to believe in the possibilities people offer and the woman he is romantically roped up with (Vera Farmiga) suddenly seems like that possibility.

UP IN THE AIR may touch on some fairly contrived topics and set itself in an all too timely milieu but with Reitman in the captain’s chair, the flight is completely turbulence free. Reitman has crafted a poignant reflection on where America is right now, in terms of the economy and their value system, that is always insightful and never judgmental. He pulls performances from his cast that are so fine in their restraint and their candidness. He puts it all together with style and finesse and, by taking to the lofty skies, he cements himself as a great modern storyteller. Perhaps most importantly, in what is so often called the darkest period America has had to face in years, Reitman somehow pays homage to how trying it all is while reminding us that it is also perfectly acceptable to laugh.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Best of Black Sheep: AVATAR

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.