Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Black Sheep's Blu-Tuesday

There are a few Blu-ray announcements this week that are music to my ears.  First on deck are the Baz Luhrmann extravaganzas, MOULIN ROUGE and WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE'S ROMEO + JULIET, both being released on October 19.  The 45th anniversary edition of THE SOUND OF MUSIC makes it's way to BD for the first time on November 2.  Walt Disney is release both of their FANTASIA films together on November 30.  And Sofia Coppola's quiet work of brilliance, LOST IN TRANSLATION has found a December 7 release.  On a separate, non-musical note of business, the Special Edition of AVATAR will be released on November 16.  I suspect that anyone who cared to know that already did.  And what of this week?

I had great anticipation for this Michael Caine vehicle and on many levels, it is greatly satisfying.  It is beautifully shot, shockingly violent and features a Caine performance at its central core that strikes an odd balance of reservation and ferociousness.  To appreciate all of this though, one must forego the main plot.  Caine is HARRY BROWN, a retired marine who lives in some low-income housing in modern day Britain, that is overrun with gangs and drugs.  After his best friend is found dead at the hands of the gangs, Brown takes it upon himself to clean up the streets.  He does it reluctantly and he does have that marine background but that is not enough to get me to buy this elderly gentleman as vigilante premise.  If you don't mind the age thing, it is well worth the rent. (E1 Entertainment)

This latest release came out last week but I've now had the chance to watch the whole thing, thanks to the good folks at 20th Century Fox.  I usually judge a season of THE SIMPSONS by the episodes I did not already see and there were a few here.  I know it may seem like every episode has played on TV a million times but there are a few gems that do not get regular syndication rotation and you can see why pretty easily when we're talking about The Simpsons' trip to Brazil.  Yikes, that was borderline offensive.  My favorite though was when The Simpsons come to my hood, Toronto.  Bart learns in this episode that sometimes we only want what we want because we can't have it. This is a lesson this here critic apparently needed a cartoon character to teach him.  Reese Witherspoon guests on this one, which is probably pretty costly to air in syndication given her residuals.  Yes, THE SIMPSONS - SEASON 13 is a good time indeed.


- HARD CANDY - Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson in an intense game of wits with dire consequences. See Page in her pre-JUNO days and you will know why she's such a big deal.

- THE BLAIR WITH PROJECT - The original PARANORMAL ACTIVITY.  This one was actually scary ... and believable.

- SECRETARY - This early Maggie Gyllenhaal film is sinfully delicious and a whole lot of messed up.  It does prove to em though that there is someone out there for everyone, no matter what kind of freak you are.

Source: Blu-ray.com

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Black Sheep @ The Box Office

This is it, folks.  This is the last box office report for the summer of 2010.  Next week, Black Sheep will take a look at the summer as a whole, picking both the biggest winners and saddest losers.  Knowing how this summer performed though, I would say we're in for a bigger share of disappointment than success.

I think I just learnt this posture in yoga. I think it's called "Arching the Demon".

That said, this last weekend in August performed better than expected overall.  THE LAST EXORCISM and TAKERS both pulled in more than $21 million when neither was expected to come near $20 million to begin with.  With only $300K difference between them, THE LAST EXORCISM is a very tentative winner and final figures could see TAKERS, uh, take the top spot away.  The next three titles, THE EXPENDABLES, EAT PRAY LOVE and THE OTHER GUYS can all celebrate for each pulling in grand totals matching roughly what their estimated budgets were reported as ($80 million, $60 million and $100 million, respectively).  Meanwhile, the film with the slightest drop over last week is INCEPTION, which actually climbs back up two spots this week.  Below the Top 10, French import, MESRINE: KILLER INSTINCT opened to an adequate $5.4K average and $150K total and Robert Duvall's black comedy, GET LOW, continued its successful expansion, pulling in another $1.7 million this week for a $3.7 million total.  Finally, James Cameron's AVATAR: SPECIAL EDITION had to settle for 12th place this weekend, pulling in just $4 million on a little over 800 screens.  It isn't that shocking that the biggest film of all time missed the Top 10 in its first reissue considering there was a surprisingly sparse campaign behind it.  The extra cash has allowed it to surpass the $750 million mark domestically.

When are groups of guys on rooftops ever up to any good?

NEXT WEEK: George Clooney goes international on Wednesday in THE AMERICAN on over 2700 screens.  Drew Barrymore and Justin Long try the New York/L.A. thing in GOING THE DISTANCE on more than 2900 screens on Friday.  Also on Friday, Lindsay Lohan returns to the screen as a gun-toting nun in Robert Rodriguez's B-movie revival, MACHETE (2500 screens).

Source: Box Office Mojo

Thursday, August 26, 2010



Jake Sully: I see you.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The biggest film of all time is about to get bigger when James Cameron's AVATAR returns to 700 screens this week with nine minutes of new footage.  AVATAR is one of those movies that I enjoyed but that I did not enjoy nearly as much as the general population did.  Usually when this happens, especially when the film in question almost takes home the Oscar for Best Picture, I tend to dislike the film more than I originally did as a reaction to that response.  What better time then to go back and see what I wrote initially, knowing full well that I was much kinder to this film than I should have been.  Darn hype.

The text in white is my original review.  The text in blue is new.  The text in blue is also not blue for AVATAR; it is just blue.

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.

So far, I agree with myself.  I actually cannot imagine watching AVATAR again ever.  It was long but still packed a ton of excitement so I got through it.  I feel the second time around though will just be long without the WOW factor.  Also, I have now seen many more "normal" movies since AVATAR and I can't say it has ruined any of them for me.  Well, except for STEP UP 3D - maybe if I had not seen the far more impressive AVATAR 3D first, that movie would have been a blast.  (Please tell me you read that sarcastically.)

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.

Look at me all laying it on thick.  I've said this before but it bears repeating.  AVATAR is a great experience, not a great movie.  It is true that Cameron's 3D in this film has yet to be matched.  Sadly, it has also inspired a bunch of unnecessary 3D experiences.  Still, Cameron did it right, expanding on the film's depth - well, visual depth, anyway.  I read a Cameron quote the other day that basically said he wants to see the day when it doesn't say "In 3D" on posters anymore just like it no longer says "In Colour".  If they do it with his technical approach, it is definitely a possibility.

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 had 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?

In the same Cameron interview I read recently, Cameron talked about how the extra footage being added to this expanded version and the even longer version coming to home video in the fall, was added to appease the fans who said they wanted to see more Pandora.  More pretty footage is not going to serve the story any better and I think this kind of thinking perfectly demonstrates Cameron's own disinterest with his story.  There was a reason the screenplay Oscar was one of the only nods the film didn't garner.  Furthermore, who is the director here?  Why do the fans get to decide what should be in this movie?  Also, between the additional footage and the two planned AVATAR sequels, I feel like Cameron will be seeing the world in blue until the day he dies.

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.

Not enough time has passed to see if AVATAR changes movies for the better.  Only one film has been released using the same technology as AVATAR thus far (the aforementioned STEP UP 3D) and any other 3D experience you've had just had the 3D tacked on.  So in the immediate, AVATAR seems to have ruined it for the rest of us but that can still all change.  As for whether it stands so many months later as a truly great piece of cinema, I couldn't tell you.  That would involve me watching it again and I already mentioned how enthused I am to do that.  That said, I never saw TITANIC more than once either.

I will take this opportunity to change my initial grade on AVATAR.
James Cameron, you have been downgraded.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Black Sheep's Blu-Tuesday

When you take a vacation, even a miniature one like I took last week, some things inevitably go awry.  For instance, my not being home made it pretty difficult to receive the films I was sent last week.  That being said, my being on vacation means that, even if I were home at the time of their delivery, I would have likely not watched them, let alone written about them.  Here we are though, one week later, and I feel I should get to these lost films as though they were released this week.  But first, speaking of lost ...

Unfortunately for me, I do not have the $195 American dollars necessary to obtain this nifty box set here but it is officially going on my Amazon wishlist.  I did not start watching LOST until this year, that is to say, I started watching from the beginning this year. I certainly didn't just jump in at the last second; who could do that and actually comprehend what was going on? I also have not seen a single scene from the sixth and final season (also available for individual purchase) so I will be first in line tomorrow at my video store to make sure that Season 6, Disc 1 is mine.  I will also likely grab Disc 2, just in case.

When I sat down to watch Kenneth Brannagh's HAMLET this past weekend, I found myself wondering just who the heck this Brannagh guy was back in day to be able to get this 4+ hour, unabridged version of the infamous Shakespeare classic made.  A skim through the gorgeous Blu-Ray book commemorating the masterful work answered all of my questions.  Brannagh was considered to be a Shakespearean genius at the time and, albeit not perfect of course, his control over the direction, writing and performance of the titular character is highly commendable.  Fear not, there is a well timed intermission included on the disc for those interested in breaking up the night.

This is one of the few films of 2009 that I was not able to see before year-end.  I had heard great things about Christian McKay's performance as the notorious Orson Welles and he certainly doesn't disappoint.  He carries himself as though he is the only person of any import in the room at all times and he plays everyone he comes into contact with perfectly, both on screen and off.  Claire Danes and Zac Efron round out the principles in the Richard Linklater production and do so with a fair amount of charm.  Efron is so cute when he tries to act all serious.  In all seriousness though, he does a pretty good job as a bright-eyed young actor on the precipice of success with no idea what is in store.

ALSO NEW THIS WEEK: Move over Jennifer Aniston, J-Lo is having a baby all by her lonesome in THE BACK-UP PLAN.  I'm sure both your mother and mine are pleased about that one.  I, on the other hand, will be locking myself indoors with the 13th season of THE SIMPSONS.  That is, I will be as soon as I'm done with LOST.

Source: blu-ray.com

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Black Sheep @ The Box Office

Despite the overcrowding with five new wide releases at the box office this weekend, no one was able to unseat Sylvester Stallone and company from the number one spot with THE EXPENDABLES.  The 52% decline for the action flick could have been much worse so the people at Maple Pictures and Lionsgate must be pleased with the word of mouth.  It was expected to rival EAT PRAY LOVE for number one this weekend but the Julia Roberts picture dropped off harder than expected and had to settle for third place, behind vampire spoof, VAMPIRES SUCK, which performed higher than expected.  The Bow Wow led ensemble comedy, THE LOTTERY, performed reasonably well, pulling in the highest per screen average in the top ten, below THE EXPENDABLES, on under 2000 screens.  PIRANHA 3D took as big a bite as one would expect for a number six finish.  NANNY MCPHEE RETURNS was met with little excitement, despite a successful run abroad.  And THE SWITCH brought in a respectable amount given a disaster was expected.  You know the expectations were low when $8 million is a relief.  And sadly, SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD is officially one of the summer's biggest financial disappointments.  Shame on you, people.  You missed one of the best things to happen to this summer.

NEXT WEEK: Summer continues to give up on itself as AVATAR comes back to 700+ screens with brand new footage.  That's right! It's longer now!! The tough guy pick will be TAKERS on 2000+ screens. And THE LAST EXORCISM opens on 2700 screens.  This had better be the last one; those things creep me out.

Source: Box Office Mojo

Saturday, August 21, 2010


Written by Allan Loeb
Directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck
Starring Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Jeff Goldblum, Juliette Lewis and Patrick Wilson

Oh what a cynical, love starved world we live in today that a movie like THE SWITCH can be called a romantic comedy.  A) It is rarely, if ever, funny – not that is doesn’t make numerous, desperate attempts to be just that.  And B) there is absolutely nothing romantic about two aging friends who are so caught up in their own self-imposed neurosis that they cannot see how easy it could all be if they just saw each other for who they really are. It’s like they’ve given up but yet they’re asking us not to.

Poor Aniston is the go-to girl for single over 40 roles.

Jennifer Aniston is Kassie and Kassie wants a baby.  Kassie doesn’t have a boyfriend though; she just has a best friend named Wally (Jason Bateman), an aptly named wallower who has been in love with Kassie for years.  Rather than go the clichéd route of trying to have babies between besties, Kassie takes the other now clichéd approach by having a baby with a baster – y’know, of the turkey variety – instead.  She doesn’t need a man even though the one she wants is standing right in front of her but Wally will have none of this.  In one of those drunk moments that no one ever remembers the next day, he accidentally ruins the sperm sample Kassie wanted to use and replaces it with his own so as not to get caught.  It is essentially a horrible thing to do and an act that could end their friendship.  Hilarity is supposed to ensue but what does is a drawn out delay between the actual act and the inevitable reveal – oh and a lot of moping and complaining in between.

I suspect Bateman isn't faking it here.  He would have to be that drunk to make it through the shoot.

I cannot figure out how it took two directors to put this film together.  This is especially true when novice filmmakers, Josh Gordon and Will Speck (BLADES OF GLORY) don’t seem to have any clear direction between the two of them as to what they’re trying to say.  There is only one thing that makes THE SWITCH watchable and that is Jason Bateman.  As incredibly dry and uninspired as the whole thing is, Bateman manages to bring subtlety and humanity when there is none to be found.  We might know Wally; we may have even been him at some point in our lives.  We also probably don’t enjoy spending too much time with him either because he just drags us down.  Subsequently, so does THE SWITCH.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Best of Black Sheep: MAO'S LAST DANCER

Editor's Note: As I am just getting back from vacation and this film is scheduled for American release this week, I thought I might post it again for my American friends who might have just skipped over it last time.  It is still playing in Canada as well.

Written by Jan Sardi
Directed by Bruce Beresford
Starring Chi Cao, Bruce Greenwood, Kyle MacLachlan and Amanda Schull

Li Cunxin: When I dance, I dance for them.
In 1972, in the Shandong province in the People’s Republic of China, a young boy of no more than eleven years old, was chosen. Exactly what he was chosen for was not made so clear at that point. There is no way that a young Li Cunxin could know at that point, when he was separated from his family to go to the Beijing Dance Academy simply because he was technically limber enough to become a potential ballet dancer, that he would go on to cause an international scandal that would in turn make him MAO’S LAST DANCER.

Director Bruce Beresford tells the true story of how Li (played in the film as an adult by the skilled Chi Cao, who incidentally also trained at the same academy in Beijing) came to spend a summer in Houston, Texas on an exchange program and how that experience subsequently made it impossible for him to return to Communist China afterward. While in America, Li has extreme culture clash at first, shocked when his guardian, Ben Stevenson (played by Bruce Greenwood, who could not be any lighter in his loafers if he tried) drops hundreds of dollars in a day of shopping when his parents had never seen that much money in their lifetime. The shock wears off though and Li comes to see that democracy might actually make him a freer dancer as well.

Beresford bounces back and forth between Li’s back story and his time in Houston in the late 1970’s.  The contrasting experiences are drastic and it makes it a little too easy to side with the American idealism that supposedly promotes freedom of expression instead of the strict home Li came from. Still, the story is a true one and a difficult one at that, with plenty of emotional payoff in the end. What makes MAO’S LAST DANCER memorable though, aside from its truths and struggles, is all the beautiful dancing in between. We may not be watching Li himself dance on screen but we do get to see exactly what he was fighting for.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Written by Michael Baccall and Edgar Wright
Directed by Edgar Wright
Starring Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin, Anna Kendrick and Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Stacey Pilgrim: Are you legitimately moving on or are you just being insane?
Scott Pilgrim: Can I get back to you on that?

By the time you reach a certain age, if you’ve tried at all to make connections with other human beings, you are bound to bring a significant amount of baggage to any table you sit at.  One of the more challenging aspects of dating is figuring out how to keep your own issues in check while navigating the mysterious aspects of your partner’s past as it is slowly revealed to you.  Fortunately for the majority of us, this particular challenge does not usually entail fighting and vanquishing seven evil exes in order to be with the one we love.  Unfortunately for Scott Pilgrim is SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD, it does. 

Scott Pilgrim is many things.  For one, he is a charming, misguided smooth talker who knows deep down that he isn’t fooling anyone really.  He is also the hero of a cult favorite graphic novel series by Ontario born cartoonist, Bryan Lee O’Malley.  Now, he is the subject of Edgar Wright’s third feature film, embodied by everyone’s favorite younger and clueless romantic, Michael Cera.  A little more than a year after his last relationship ended, 23-year-old Pilgrim has just started dating Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), a high school girl, of the clichéd uniformed variety.  His band, Sex Bo-Bomb, know what he’s up to; his sister (the underused Anna Kendrick) and best friend (the snide but supportive Kieran Culkin) know he’s avoiding.  In fact, Scott is pretty much the only one around who thinks everything is going just fine, until he meets Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), that is.  Ramona is a game changer.

Ramona has got her share of demons to deal with and has decided to leave her past where it belongs with a fresh start in Toronto, where the film is proudly shot and set.  She soon discovers that she can’t just run away from her problems, as much as you’d like to. No, sometimes you have to get your new boyfriend to take on each and everyone of your exes one at a time in order to move on.  I don’t know about you but I don’t usually like to talk about my exes with new people I meet until I’m almost sure they aren’t going anywhere so I feel awful bad for Ramona; her exes, going all the way back to grade school, have formed some sort of evil league of exes that follows her around and ensures that she never finds happiness.  That’s a whole lot of garbage for our boy Scott to take out but Ramona is worth it.  As much as Scott has to physically battle her past, Ramona is the new that could finally help Scott let go of his old.

“Fighter” is not likely the first word people would use to describe Cera’s composure.  (I believe that honour would have to go “awkward”.)  Still, given everything he has to take on in SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD, he pulls it off despite his awkwardness and because of one other key factor, the hallucinatory direction of Wright (SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ).  The world Scott must take on, according to Wright, is one where neo-hipster apathy dictates every aspect of existence and the video game mentality that has permeated the thin skin of all its inhabitants not only dominates the fight sequences but operates on a symbolic level as well.  Anything worth having is worth fighting for and Scott hasn’t fought for anything in ages.  Yet, as he passes level after level, he sees that he’s not so bad at this game after all.  He just needed someone worth playing for and watching him step up his game is so much fun, you’ll be taking on your own world before you know it.  Consider yourselves warned, exes.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Yesterday's Action Hero, Today

An interview with

Everything I know about Dolph Lundgren from my childhood, I know because of my brother.  It was my brother who watched and rewatched action classics like UNIVERSAL SOLDIER and MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE over and over again.  I merely caught whatever was on when I stumbled into the living room out of pure boredom.  For years, fans like my brother have been waiting to see a contemporary action star emerge that could blow the crap out of everything without calling in their stunt double to do the real dirty work.  I say, why wait for one though when you can have a whole slew of them right now?

Thanks to Sylvester Stallone, my brother can quit holding his breath and get in line for THE EXPENDABLES – a film about a band of mercenaries that infiltrate a tiny island to liberate its people from an oppressive dictatorship and destroy everything they possibly can while they’re at it.  Throwback premise aside, Stallone, who also wrote and directed the project, has assembled a list of bad boys that would frighten anyone into submission – from Jason Statham and Jet Li to Steve Austin and Randy Couture.  And sitting right near the top of this obscenely muscular heap is Captain Ivan Drago himself, Dolph Lundgren.

“I hope people will be entertained and I hope they appreciate a little old school tough guy camaraderie,” Lundgren tells me when we meet during his press stop in Toronto.  “Respect and honour – that’s what’s at the heart of this picture.  It may seem old fashioned but it’s important.”

And he’s right.  Respect and honour are the reason these misfits have stayed together all this time and also what gives the film some unexpected humanity and realism.  Stallone has his convictions; Statham is a loner trying to find something real; and Li is having a hard time making ends meet for his family.  Lundgren meanwhile, has found himself caught up in a narcotics addiction that has changed him from a fighting machine to a liability.

“In the originally script, he was a user but there was much more obvious evidence,” Lundgren confides. “They make a big deal of it but Stallone cleaned it up and made it more ambiguous.” Lundgren imagined his character, Gunner Jensen, in some sort of a hazy romp with hookers and drugs for days before we meet him on the crew’s first hostage mission, blitzed out of his head with an anti-tank gun in his hands.  “People might end up getting hurt,” he quips.

Lundgren didn’t want Gunner to come off one-sided though.  “For me, the big challenge was trying to make him a little funny.  Crazy, but at the same time a little bit charming, a little bit of a Dolph that people hadn’t seen so much of.”

The truth of it is, North American audiences haven’t seen much of Lundgren at all recently, let alone different “colours of his palette,” as he puts it.  With the buzz for THE EXPENDABLES being almost as loud as the film itself, it would seem that we could all be poised to see a lot more of Lundgren and the guys.

“As with ROCKY IV, I had no clue at all that was going to happen with that,” says Lundgren of the catapult to stardom that followed after Stallone gave him his first major break.  Can Stallone resurrect Lundgren’s career 25 years after he helped launch it?  “Stallone is a smart guy. The stuff that nobody believes in, he makes it happen in unbelievable ways.  He’s done it a few times and hopefully this will be one of them.”

THE EXPENDABLES certainly feels like an inevitable hit but it remains to be seen if a bunch of aging action heroes – and I say that with the full knowledge that any one of them could pummel me for doing so – can capture the attention of a generation brought up on action heroes that are a heck of a lot hotter than they are monstrously sized.

“It was a different era but I hope it comes back,” Lundgren says, with a tinge of vulnerability in his voice. “You have these older guys who still have this kind of persona, combined with the humour – that’s what Stallone hopes people are going to want to see.”

Well, that and a lot of big stuff getting blown up.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Black Sheep's Blu-Tuesday

As it turns out, I'm a little blue this Tuesday.  It should be fitting considering but it's really just distracting.  Fortunately, there aren't too many films coming out today to get excited about.  And perhaps even more importantly, what is coming out is pretty funny stuff.  First off though, the following films have been announced on Blu-ray this week: SEX AND THE CITY 2 comes home on October 26 ... The incredibly gorgeous, I AM LOVE, will wow you on October 12 ... If you like French film and fashion, be sure to see COCO CHANEL AND IGOR STRAVINSKY on September 28 ... WINTER'S BONE, one of the most understated films of 2010, will impress on October 26 ... And one of my favorite films from my childhood, TREMORS, comes out from the underground on November 9.  Now, let's get back to the present ...

20th Century Fox and director, Shawn Levy (NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM) have discovered a new comedy pairing that is certain to give everyone who watches a laugh, whether they have a date with them or not.  The premise is silly - suburban couple get mistaken for thieves while on a date and spend the rest of the night in NYC running for their lives - but Steve Carrell and Tina Fey bring depth and urgency to it regardless.  We've seen the perils of a stale marriage plenty of times before but Carrell and Fey fight just as hard to save their marriage as they do their lives on this particular night because it truly feels as though it is hanging by a thread.  More importantly, they bring the laughs and the couple that laughs together, stays together.  Click here to read the original Black Sheep review of DATE NIGHT.

Three years after the original Frank Oz film of the same name became a cult hit,  Sony Pictures and once promising director, Neil LaBute have decided that a remake for American audiences is a matter of life and death.    Having seen both versions, I can certainly say that this 2010 version is nowhere near as funny or poignant but it still does the trick mostly, thanks to a strong  cast, including Chris Rock, James Marsden, Zoe Saldana, Martin Lawrence , Tracy Morgan and Luke Wilson.  It doesn't deviate much from the original - even the opening credit sequence is pretty similar - so, aside from making some more dough stateside, I can't really see a need for the film.  At least it doesn't kill the life the original honoured so well.

ALSO NEW THIS WEEK: If you aren't through laughing after these two films, both NATIONAL LAMPOON'S VACATION and EUROPEAN VACATION are available through Warner Bros.  Barbra Streisand and Ryan O'Neal yuck it up in WHAT'S UP DOC?  And Terry Zwigoff's 1994 documentary about Robert Crumb, CRUMB, gets the Criterion treatment.

Source: Blu-ray.com

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Black Sheep @ The Box Office

It's August, people.  This makes the $35 million debut of THE OTHER GUYS commendable given it's solid size but what other choice did people have really?  STEP UP 3D! Is that even a choice?  This summer continues on its uneven path with a glut this weekend followed by overcrowding next weekend (more on that below).  Still, Will Ferrell should be pleased with THE OTHER GUYS opening, pulling in a near $10K per screen average and earning the honours of dethroning INCEPTION after three weeks at number one.  STEP UP 3D opened somewhat on par with the last film in the series but given that ticket prices for 3D pics are more expensive, the numbers would have had to have been higher to be considered a success.  Large second week declines for DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS and CHARLIE ST. CLOUD indicate very little good word of mouth circulating for the disappointments.  Outside the Top 10, the corruption drama, MIDDLE MEN sank to the bottom of a lake with a reported $300K on 252 screens for an average of $1200.  And even though it dropped off some in overall earnings this weekend, the delightful adult summer indie, THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, finally cracked the Top 10 at number 10 this week, with a grand total of $14 million so far.

They don't get how this happened either.

NEXT WEEK: Hollywood goes wide with three major releases that play to three very different demographics.  The hotly anticipated return from director, Edgar Wright (SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ), SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD opens on 2600+ screens. Next up on 2800+ screens, Julia Roberts and director, Ryan Murphy ("Glee") take on the massive literary success, EAT PRAY LOVE.  And the action heroes of yore - from Sylverster Stallone to Black Sheep interviewee, Dolph Lundgren - explode big time on to 3000+ screens in THE EXPENDABLES. (The interview is coming this week.)

Saturday, August 07, 2010

The Emergence of Gemma Arterton

An Interview with Gemma Arterton

There is something particularly surreal about the first half hour of J Blakeson’s indie genre pic, THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED.  Not only do we get to see an incredibly lean and plainly put preparatory period for the brutal abduction that is about to take place, but we also get to see something else entirely unexpected.  We get to see a blockbuster darling in the making explode as a serious actress.  Gemma Arterton may disappear as Alice Creed but by doing so, she emerges as herself.

Arterton, a 24-year-old actress from England is a natural beauty and a genuinely pleasant person to sit across a table from.  She was thrust on to the scene after appearing as Strawberry Fields in the most recent (and hopefully not last) James Bond film, QUANTUM OF SOLACE.  Prominent parts in CLASH OF THE TITANS and PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME followed.  All of these roles would be considered prime exposure for a fresh face but all of these films have one other thing in common.  Critics and fans alike have also almost universally dismissed them.  If not careful, Arterton could find herself banished to the land of bad movies for eternity.

“I was worried I was getting typecast, always being in these big, fantasy movies.  It was really important at this time in my career to do this.  I actually jumped on this movie.”

Typecasting is death for an actor so it is no wonder that Arterton wanted the part of Alice Creed, the daughter of a successful businessman who is kidnapped and held for ransom.  That said, what exactly was Arterton jumping on here?  The role of Alice Creed required Arterton to be forcefully handcuffed and tied to a bed with a bag over her head and a gag in her mouth and having her clothes cut off of her body, leaving her naked and vulnerable on camera.  She even had to urinate into a bottle while she was still bound and gagged and with other people in the room watching her.  I don’t know about you but this doesn’t sound to me like something anyone in their right mind would jump at.

“I didn’t feel like I had flexed my acting muscles in that way in a long time.  I wanted something that was kinda raw and scary.  I wanted to scare myself.”

And what about those pesky restraints?  They had to hurt.

“The physical restraint was kinda the easy bit.  It actually formed the basis of the acting for me.  We filmed in sequence and did all the brutal stuff in the first week.  It was horrid but it kinda set me up for the rest of the movie.  I remembered it all in my body.”

Whatever her motivation, her mission was certainly accomplished.  THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED is a bare bones depiction of a plight we have seen on film countless times before.  The best thing about though it is that, despite this, it actually feels fresh and inspires some very real fear in the viewer.  That fear stems not only from the tense confinement created by Blakeson but also very much from the chemistry from the three-piece ensemble.  Eddie Marsan and Martin Compston join Arterton on screen as her inexperienced but determined captors.  Despite the tension on screen, everything was decidedly less so when the cameras weren’t rolling.

“That’s such a wanky thing to do,” Arterton says in regards to the methodology in which actors do not speak in between takes to maintain the tension.  “As soon as ‘Cut!’ was yelled, everyone was making jokes and being silly.  It was necessary to do that.  I mean, it was too much already.”

Meanwhile, that’s not what everyone has heard.  Arterton, naturally fidgety it would seem from the amount of times she played with her face during our brief interview, has already had to dispute charges to the contrary.

“Someone said to me the other day that they heard that I wanted to be tied up for the whole movie.  Yeah, but just so I could fall asleep on the bed in between takes without having to waste so much time untying me.”

You’ve got to love a girl who so innocently wants to stay bound to a bed just so she can catch a quick catnap.  And after people see her in THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED, there is no question that many more will be loving this girl for a number of other reasons.  And, given that Arterton has had enough nap time to figure out where to go from here, we should have plenty more opportunities to enjoy her.

“At the beginning of my career, I just jumped on everything, thinking I’d never work again. A couple of years on, I understand a little bit more about what I do want out of it and that I can make choices.  I feel like I’m just opening the door to the rest of my career because of this movie.”

The door is definitely open and now all Arterton has to do is walk through it.

Thursday, August 05, 2010


Written by Amy Andelson and Emily Meyer
Directed by Jon Chu
Starring Rick Malambri, Adam G. Sevani, Sharni Vinson and Alyson Stoner

“Maybe we’re all plugged in to the same song”

I am not a dancer but I know enough of them and I’ve seen enough episodes of “So You Think You Can Dance” at this point to know that they are some of the hardest working and most passionate artists out there.  Like one of the greatest dancers in history once sang jubilantly while he kicked his heels in the air, dancers just gotta dance.  (That would be Gene Kelly in case you weren’t aware.)  The street kids of Jon Chu’s STEP UP 3D start their journey with us by expressing this passion in testimonials to the camera and I thought for a moment that this might be that something unique that captures that particular passion perfectly.  It only took about two minutes though to see that this was going to be nothing more than just another dance movie after all.

I have also seen enough dance movies to know that they don’t change that much from one to the next.  Before a single move is busted, we meet Moose (Adam G. Sevani), a scrawny engineering geek who is just starting college and has to leave his passion for dance behind him.  It’s time to be a man and get with the real world of course.  He ends up in some NYC park dance-off, as I’m sure those happen daily, when Luke (Rick Malambri), the leader of a group of mismatched dancers called The Pirates, plucks him up as if he is his own personal fairy god-dancer, and makes him the newest member of his troupe.  Moose doesn’t really have a say in the matter either.  He does have school but this is the dance capital of the world; this is New York City! (Naturally, I know this because Alicia Keys is singing “Empire State of Mind” as we montage over the city.)  Luke and company now have to win some major dance contest in order to keep the house they call home from being repossessed, forcing them on to the street.  You knew that already though; that’s how they always go.

Having seen enough dance movies, I also know that ultimately, it is about the dancing.  With routines ranging from breaking and hip-hop to tango and parkour, STEP UP 3 definitely steps up the dance factor.  (I’ve not caught the first two films in the series so I cannot say if it is any better this time out.)  It is also the first film to be originally shot in 3D since all those blue people ran amok last year.  Some of the dancing pops a little harder but today’s dance films need to be so choppy in order for the intended audience to grab on to them, that the dancing itself sometimes gets lost in the editing.  The “Mickey Mouse” 3D here barely seems able to keep up with the dancer’s movements and could be be ringing in a new wave of extremely commercialized 3D films.  Sloppy college kids walking off the screen and toward me in packs is not cool; it’s just a frightening sign of things to come.  But damn those new Nikes look good on all those pretty young people’s feet.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Black Sheep's Blu-Tuesday

It is an extremely busy day for film releases and most of them are actually pretty good too.  What are the odds?! Maple Pictures releases KICK-ASS, the critically acclaimed R-rated anti-superhero movie failed to connect in theatres but will surely find its audience on Blu-ray.  If it doesn't though, that sequel is pretty much done for.  20th Century Fox puts out medium sized family hit, DIARY OF A WIMPY KID as well as Kevin Costner/Susan Sarandon baseball hit, BULL DURHAM.  I've not seen either but BULL DURHAM should be arriving shortly so I will know soon enough. And the 25th anniversary edition of THE BREAKFAST CLUB finds its way to Blu-ray, courtesy of Universal.  Here are a few more highlighted titles ...

Roman Polanski's latest thriller is fairly devoid of thrills I'm afraid.  This is mostly because he can't seem to decide whether his intention is to make a point about pushing the boundaries of torture in the name of preventing terror or whether it is simply to tell a strong story.  His complete lack of focus makes for a fairly disjointed mystery and a mediocre experience.  Ewan McGregor takes on an assignment to ghost write the memoirs of a past British Prime Minister but gets himself into way more than the paycheck is worth when the PM (Pierce Brosnan) finds himself at the center of an international war crimes scandal at the same time.  THE GHOST WRITER is a functional piece of film but ironically, it feels as though someone other than Polanski actually called the shots.  (E1 Entertainment)

Like many other people, I did not catch this film upon its initial 1996 release.  It was Henry Selick's follow-up to one of my all time favorite films, THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, but yet it could not grab my attention.  I've grown now, as has my palette and I think it is time to take a great big bite of this big old peach.  JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH tells the story of young orphan James trying to find his way in the world.  It features voice work by  David Thewlis and Susan Sarandon and is based on a Raold Dahl book (FANTASTIC MR. FOX) so all the elements are in place for it to be real juicy.    Perhaps it was just ahead of its time or perhaps we were all just behind on our own time. (Walt Disney) 

I'm very excited about this title.  BLOOD SIMPLE is the debut feature from Joel and Ethan Coen.  You likely know them better as the Coen Brothers and they began their tradition of complication and quirk long before they made contemporary classics like FARGO and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.  This one is about a guy who hires another guy to kill his cheating wife and her boyfriend; only the guy he hires to kill them has got some plans of his own.  I am thrilled to have this title on Blu-ray as I have not seen the 1985 film in quite some time. (I only first saw it about ten years ago; I won't pretend to have been on the Coen Bros. band wagon since the beginning.) I do remember though that you can see their genius being born and knowing where their careers go, it is a delight to see where they began. (MGM)

ALSO AVAILABLE NOW: As if there weren't enough titles already listed, right?  I reviewed the brilliant Franch film, A PROPHET (click the link for review) last week and you can buy it now. Uh, and you should ... buy it now.  I personally found ROAD TO PERDITION and NATURAL BORN KILLERS to be lackluster films from reputed directors but their loyal followings will be happy to get their newly remastered incarnations, I'm sure.  And nearly 30 years after its initial release, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, starring a young, strapping Kurt Russell - or at least, an eye-patch wearing Kurt Russell anyway - gets its day on blu-ray.

Source: Blu-ray.com