Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Written by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John J. McLaughlin
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Starring Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder

Thomas Leroy: Perfection is not just about control. It is also about letting go.

From my understanding, to be a true ballerina, one must always strive for perfection. Your toes, your torso, your lines must be just so. If you’re serious about ballet, you might be lucky enough to join a company. Only a select few get to be company soloists though. And so, lightly prancing about beneath the stage at any given ballet, you will find dozens of girls all striving toward an unattainable goal - some starving themselves and some hoping the soloist will take a bad fall and need replacing at the last second. It’s a microcosm, ripe with potential for drama and madness, making it the perfect setting for Darren Aronofsky’s latest, BLACK SWAN.

At the film’s start, a single spotlight rises on two feet, tightly wound in the tiniest of slippers. They begin to dance and as they land one after the other, we can see how delicate ballet is and how tortuous it must be to make it look that good. When the camera pulls away to reveal that these feet do in fact belong to Natalie Portman, it is clear just how much grace she will bring to this film. And by the time a beastly creature makes itself known to this frightened dancer, it is clear that Aronofsky is about to, yet again, give us something unlike anything else he’s done.

Portman is Nina, a dancer with the New York City Ballet who has just been cast as the Swan Princess in the upcoming production of “Swan Lake”. To do so in exactly the manner her director (Vincent Cassel) demands, she must embody the spirit of both the white and the black swan. Yes, the thematic conflict for this character is obvious at this point but Aronofsky tells it with complex visual style that jetés between jarring and captivating. And Portman, who has reportedly been in dance lessons since she was a toddler, knows the pressure of the dancer. She is to tightly wound that by the time her dark side begins to show its face, we are just as ready to release as she is. It certainly doesn’t help matters that her mother (Barbara Hershey) pressures her to succeed, a new dancer (Mila Kunis) wants her spot and the soloist she replaced (Winona Ryder) wants her just plain gone.

BLACK SWAN is as theatrical and as dramatic as any ballet that I’ve seen performed on stage. Aronofsky directs but, from behind the camera, he dances alongside the dancers as if he was part of the choreography, forming some hybrid of dance and film that begs repeat performances. It also warrants a resounding standing ovation.


Written by David Seidler
Directed by Tom Hooper
Starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter

King George VI: Waiting for me to commence a conversation, one can wait a rather long wait.

When a king speaks, he must command attention. Though the British monarchy may be more iconography than anything else at this point in history, people will still look to their royal leader for guidance and reassurance in times of woe and doubt. That’s a lot of pressure for someone who may never have wanted to assume the responsibility to begin with. Unfortunately for King George VI, his birthright meant he did not have any choice in the matter. It’s not that he didn’t think he could do it; it’s just that he wasn’t confidant enough to think anyone would care to have him.

Forget the king; when director Tom Hooper speaks, he has my full attention. After his impressive first feature last year, THE DAMNED UNITED, Hooper continues his journey in regal fashion with THE KING’S SPEECH and delivers the goods right from the start. Colin Firth, who could easily garner another Oscar nod with his heartbreaking work here, is the Duke of York. It is 1925 and he is about to address the nation. The tension builds and by the time he gets to the podium, every ear in the land appears to be waiting to hear what he has to say. At first, there is nothing. What follows that awkwardness is a disjointed, passionless address that he stammers all the way through. It may not be as epic a global failure as modern day technology allows but enough people were listening to make it seem like a public collapse that he might never recover from.

He almost didn’t. King George VI went through many speech therapists before landing on Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Logue helps George break down the years of subtle abuse one suffers as the son of a king to see that his speech impediment is the result of isolation and lack of confidence, not something particularly physical. Their banter is at times hilarious and at others quite intense. Their immense combined talent, along with supporting turns from Helena Bonham Carter and Guy Pearce, give THE KING’S SPEECH even more depth and flourish than Hooper already has. Together, they created a film that will certainly resonate long after it’s said what it has to say.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Black Sheep @ The Box Office

Turkey time has come and gone and apparently it was not so difficult for a good chunk of you to roll yourselves off of your couches and make your way to one of the many movies released this past week. Granted, the majority of the money was split almost evenly between two family films but 'tis the season, right?

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS (PART ONE) (click title for review) narrowly held on to its crown this weekend, after pulling in stellar numbers all week. The total cume now stands at $220 million in North America, putting it well on track to easily become the most successful film of the franchise. Coming in second place, which could turn into first place for the weekend if the estimates don't hold after the official numbers are released tomorrow, is Disney's 50th animated feature, TANGLED, an update on the "Rapunzel" story. With $69 million in five days, it far surpassed my expectations and, from what I hear, the film ain't half bad either.

On the other hand, three other wide releases played to very tepid audiences this weekend. The most successful of the trio was the Christina Aguilera / Cher musical romp, BURLESQUE (click title for review). Like everything else Aguilera released this year, her film debut was not well embraced, pulling in less than $4K per screen. Performing only slightly better per screen was the romantic drama, LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS (click title for review), with Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway. The film, which features Gyllenhaal as a Viagra salesman, probably would have benefitted from popping a couple of little blue pills itself if it wanted to make an, uh, bigger impression. And, after spending years playing to the family crowd, The Rock returns to action in FASTER with a very slow start, with the lowest average of any of the four wide releases.

Just below the Top 10 again this week is the Danny Boyle directed true story, 127 HOURS (click title for review), starring James Franco. Adding another 185 screens saw the film's returns improve another 88%, the Top 10 now closer than ever. The big art house success this week though is the Oscar front runner, THE KING'S SPEECH (click title for review), from director, Tom Hooper. This Colin Firth period piece played to a fantastic per screen average of $87.5K on just four screens in all of North America, certainly leaving distributor, Alliance, a little speechless.

NEXT WEEK: As awards season approaches, there is more excitement on the limited release front than the wide front, with only one semi-wide release next week, THE WARRIOR'S WAY (???) on 1500 screens. More importantly though, the oft delayed Jim Carrey / Ewan McGregor gay prison comedy, I LOVE YOU, PHILIP MORRIS, finally sees life on the outside, on 6 screens. And Darren Aronofky's highly anticipated ballet thriller with Natalie Portman, BLACK SWAN (click title for review), hits 19 screens.

Friday, November 26, 2010


Written by Charles Randolph, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz
Directed by Edward Zwick
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway and Oliver Platt

Jamie Randall: You're my little blue pill.

Ordinarily, I would say that any film that starts with The Spin Doctors’ “Two Princes” is destined to be a disaster. LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS takes place is 1996 though so I guess I can be reasonable. The catchy ditty that consumed the airwaves that year is blasting in a high-end stereo store, where Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal) is using his charms to make the sales and get the ladies while he’s at it. He hasn’t a care in the world until he meets a girl (Anne Hathaway) who has no choice but to take life seriously. The twosome are charming together and so disaster is averted but sadly, only so far as to achieve disappointment.

Director Edward Zwick (DEFIANCE) often makes socially conscious films and LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS is no different (although arguably much less serious than say, BLOOD DIAMOND, as far as issues go). Jamie is a pharmaceutical representative for Pfizer at just the right time to cash in on the Viagra explosion. This allows Zwick to explore supposedly scandalous themes like the evils of the drug companies and how they’re ruining our immune systems while getting disgustingly rich. Zwick is never really interested in the matter at hand though. He just uses hot topic scenarios as backdrops for the real story - in this case, the reluctant love between Jamie and Hathaway’s Maggie Murdoch. To make matters worse, and of course much more poignant, Maggie has early on-set Parkinson’s. And so the real question is how life can be so terribly unfair as to give these two people a transformative love that will only get harder and harder to hold.

My answer to that is pretty simple. That’s life, folks. For all of Zwick’s fascination with serious subjects, he rarely seems to comprehend the actual impact of these hardships on the people involved. Maggie pushes people away because she doesn’t think its fair for anyone to have to deal with her condition. Meanwhile, Jamie is frustrated that he can’t fix her with a pill like everything else and has to accept that love is hard. While these are real struggles, the tone is kept pretty light while both of them accept that love is a drug all unto itself. Fortunately for LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS, Gyllenhaal and Hathaway get along brilliantly. They are playful and sharp, like lovers should be, and thanks to Zwick’s somewhat voyeuristic gaze, they are hot and naked a whole heck of a lot too. They are certainly the only addictive element to the film though and when the buzz wears off, there is no withdrawal at all.


Written and Directed by Steve Antin
Starring Christina Aguilera, Cher, Cam Gigandet, Kristen Bell and Stanley Tucci

Ali: I've got to get out of this town

We open on a street so sparse, in a town so small, one expects tumbleweeds to float by the diner where two young ladies are wasting their lives away as waitresses. Pop princess / diva / star, Christina Aguilera, is sitting on the counter top, staring off into the distance, looking forlorn and pensive. She announces that she’s got to get out of this town and before long, she is buying a one-way ticket to Los Angeles to become a star! There you have it. This is BURLESQUE, a new musical that steals (sorry, borrows would have been too generous a word to use here) from great movie musicals of the past, like CABARET, MOULIN ROUGE and CHICAGO (which incidentally all did it better), to showcase the vocal prowess of its star and transition her to the next inevitable level of her fame as a Hollywood actress.

It has not been a good year for Aguilera. Her latest album tanked and barely registered at radio. Her summer tour was scrapped due to low ticket sales, or so it was rumoured. And as if her professional troubles weren’t bad enough, she separated from her husband of just five years in the fall. With an album, a tour and a movie coming out in one year, this was clearly meant to be a big one for her. While my heart goes out to her, BURLESQUE is not going to turn anything around. Perhaps if there were a stitch of originality in the film, it might have given Aguilera some desperately needed credibility at this stage in her career. Writer / Director (and I use those terms loosely) Steve Antin, keeps the clichés coming though and it is painfully obvious that the only reason the film was made was to showcase Aguilera’s impressive chops. With reasons like that, it won’t amount to anything but a forgotten blip in the increasingly chaotic pop spectrum.

Judging from the age bracket of the audience I caught BURLESQUE with, I’d say more people were curious to see Cher return to the screen than anything else about this movie. Cher plays Tess, a former burlesque dancer that now runs the club, fittingly called “Burlesque”, where Aguilera finds acceptance and success. Cher is the only character other than Aguilera to sing in the film but never does she sing with her co-star. In fact, when Cher does sing, I was afraid her intensely tight face might crack into tiny little pieces but alas no, and at least she sounded decent. It’s a shame the songs she was given were so boring though. Fortunately, she has everyone’s favorite gay sidekick, Stanley Tucci, at her side to liven things up when necessary, which is often.

BURLESQUE is simply too easy to be anything other than mediocre. About half way through the film, when Aguilera inevitably finds her voice after struggling to get noticed in L.A. and just after Cher finds out that if they don’t raise an obscene amount of money by a fast approaching date that the club will close, you are lulled into a state of complete familiarity. Your fate is accepted and BURLESQUE makes its way to its predictable ending without full-on disaster or wardrobe malfunction. Familiar means comfortable and while comfortable can be nice, it can also be easily forgotten. Simply put, BURLESQUE falls very flat when it was clearly aiming for busty.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Black Sheep interviews Nigel Cole

An interview with director, Nigel Cole

In 1968, 187 women at a Ford automobile plant in Dagenham, a large suburb East of London, England, went on strike. A few miles from there in a small, neighbouring town, Nigel Cole, the man who would go on to tell their story more than forty years later in his latest film, MADE IN DAGENHAM, was but nine years old.

“I actually grew up close to the factory,” Cole tells me when we meet at the Toronto International Film Festival, where MADE IN DAGENHAM had its world premiere. “I was aware of the factory; I had never heard the story though.” The story Cole is referring to is the little strike that changed the world. When the Dagenham Ford plant women decided to strike, it was because their seamstress positions had been downgraded to unskilled worker status. Before long though, it became apparent to them that there was a much bigger battle to be had – the one for equal pay for women.

Their efforts would go on to change the world so how can their story be so obscure? If you’ve never heard it before, you needn’t worry; you’re not the only one. “When the producers came to me, I thought, ‘How could I not know this?’” And Cole actually went to school with other kids whose parents worked at the factory! “It was a really good reason to make the film. This is a story that people should learn.”

Cole tells this historical tale by honouring the facts and fictionalizing the home lives of the women involved. The strikers are led by Rita O’Grady, played by the luminescent, Sally Hawkins. Hawkins was first on board, even before Cole. “I was approached with a rough draft and Sally Hawkins and that was enough for me,” he says. “If it was just Sally I probably still would have signed up.” Rita, a reluctant leader at first, struggles to maintain her newfound duties as the leader of a major movement and her responsibilities to her family.

By taking us into their homes, Cole allows us to see how their struggle was hardly just on the picket lines. “The domestic stories are often inspired by many of the women who were there and are still alive now,” Cole tells me, as portraying them fairly and respectfully was a priority for him. “The structure of the story, how the strike developed, how Ford dealt with it, how the women dealt with it, how the politicians of the day were drawn in by it, is all exactly as it happened.” The perfect balance Cole strikes is one of the things that makes MADE IN DAGENHAM both enlightening and moving.

MADE IN DAGENHAM is Cole’s fifth film as a director, having gotten his start with the British indie successes, SAVING GRACE and CALENDAR GIRLS, films where the underdogs must defeat bigger establishments. “I’m always drawn to David and Goliath stories,” Cole declares proudly. That said, he has no interest in preaching to the converted. No, like every filmmaker out there, Cole wants as wide an audience as possible to see his work and here’s why. “There is no point in making films about social issues that are only seen by middle class liberals. I want to draw in a wide audience and maybe give them something to enjoy but where they actually learn something.”

Another characteristic that seems to be central to all of Cole’s work is its distinctly female voice. Yes, there is a heterosexual male behind the camera but the stories Cole tells are those that resonate more with the ladies. It’s nothing personal against the fellas. “Traditionally, men’s films are about things I’m not particularly interested in,” he says, an opinion I share. “I don’t relish the thought of shooting things or killing or torturing. There are plenty of male directors who do and I should just leave it to them.”

No, Cole sees himself a little differently. “I’m more of a girly man,” he jokes. “Women have a big effect on me in my life. I’m fascinated by them, that’s for sure.” And so Cole truly is a modern man, one in touch enough with his feminine side to not only champion their history on film but to actually get it right.

From a film critic’s perspective, I can genuinely say Cole did get it right. MADE IN DAGENHAM will delight all who see it, even the men who naturally assume they won’t. There’s only one way to know for certain whether Cole got it really right or not though and that would be to ask the women involved in the actual strike what they thought of the film. “I’m thrilled to tell you they loved it,” Cole exclaims, pride beaming from his face. “Its scary stuff because if they didn’t, it would be bad for the movie and bad for me to be able to sleep nights. They thought we caught the spirit of excitement they felt, the fun they had. They were glad we made it look like fun because they said it was.”

And so is the film. Equal fun for all!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Couch Time with Sheldon

This will be the last COUCH TIME WITH SHELDON for 2010. Next week, I am away on business so I won't have much couch time at all. When I return in December, this space will be dedicated to SHOPPING WITH SHELDON - Holiday suggestions for all the film lovers on your list. In the meantime, let's see how Sheldon has been spending his couch time.

The indie film scene has been in love with this film since it debuted in Sundance at the beginning of the year. The buzz was that director, Lisa Cholodenko, had crafted a modern family comedy that was funny, touching and altogether human without being the least bit contrived or forced. And they were right. THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT should fit in perfectly in your living room given the film's family focus. Young Laser and Joni (Josh Hutcherson and Mia Wasikowska) seek out and find their sperm donor, Paul (Mark Ruffalo) without their mothers' (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) knowledge. The ensemble shines and at least the three adult leads should find their names being dropped all over awards season this year. Moore and Bening feel like they've been together for ages and their chemistry is perfect. Cholodenko redefines family with this one. (Alliance) (Click here for full Black Sheep review.)

Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks reunite as producing partners with this 10-part HBO miniseries on the American marines' involvement in the Pacific ocean during the second World War. I must admit that I am only half way through the series myself and so far, I'm not as involved as I was when Spielberg and Hanks produced their first WWII mini-series, BAND OF BROTHERS. It is getting better though as the focus shifts more towards particular soldiers instead of the companies themselves. Still, I can't imagine too many fans of BROTHERS being too disappointed with this. It still features plenty of intense war footage and many a fraternal bonding moment between soldiers. There just aren't as many standout performances this time out so there are times when its just a lot of guys in green for me. (Warner Bros.)

If you've got some couch time this week, there are plenty of options just released on DVD and Blu-ray today. Maple Pictures puts out two pictures from this past summer, one a lot of people saw and one hardly any of you did. Now's your chance to catch Gemma Arterton in THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED, a sharp and gripping kidnapping thriller. For more insight into Arterton and the project, read Black Sheep's interview with Arterton here ... The second Maple picture is the Sylvester Stallone directed blockbuster, THE EXPENDABLES. This action throwback also stars Jason Statham, Jet Li and Dolph Lundgren, whom Black Sheep also interviewed this year. Click here for that ... Sony counterprograms on DVD just like they did in theatres with the Julia Roberts drama, EAT PRAY LOVE. Like in theatres, I feel THE EXPENDABLES will eat-pray-love her alive on DVD ... Lucy Walker offers her first of two 2010 documentaries through Alliance, COUNTDOWN TO ZERO (click title fore review), an intelligent and enlightening look at our current global nuclear situation ... This next one from Magnolia Pictures was a documentary to begin with but as it turns out, it is just pure insanity. If you like to watch train wrecks, don't miss Joaquin Phoenix in Casey Affleck's I'M STILL HERE (click title for review). I swear, it's a crazy trip that you've got to see to believe ... And cinephiles rejoice as Kino releases Fritz Lang's THE COMPLETE METROPOLIS for the first time on Blu-ray. Apparently the restoration is the film's most comprehensive and impressive incarnation in history.

Source: blu-ray.com

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Black Sheep @ The Box Office

Harry Potter and friends prove they've still got a little magic we haven't seen up their sleeves as HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS conjures up the best opening weekend in the franchise's history! The $77.8 million opening weekend the previous installment, HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE, pulled in is certainly nothing to scoff at, but it is also the second lowest opening weekend tally of all seven Potter films. It seemed like Potter mania had topped out but fans and more prove that everyone wants to see how this saga will end.

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS started strong with $24 million in midnight showings Thursday night. This is the most for the series and the third highest midnight gross in history behind the last two TWILIGHT chapters. And the history making doesn't stop there. Friday's combined total of $61 million was the fifth biggest opening day in history. It was also the second biggest November opening behind TWILIGHT: NEW MOON ($142 million). In fact, Harry Potter titles make up the rest of the Top 5 in that category. Overall, the latest Harry Potter ranks as the 6th best opening weekend in history, right behind the $128 million IRON MAN 2 opening weekend. THE DARK KNIGHT still holds that record with $158 million. The first film, HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE, remains the highest grossing Harry Potter pic with a domestic total of over $317 million. With this incredible start and Thanksgiving next weekend, HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS could easily shatter that. Black Sheep reviewed Harry's latest adventure this week. Click here for the review.

And while one boy grows stronger, another man gets weaker - at least at the box office anyway. Russell Crowe's latest thriller, THE NEXT THREE DAYS, officially generated no interest in filmgoers. I guess even grandparents caught the Hogwarts crew. This Paul Haggis film is his second strike as a director after the dismal returns for his last film, IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH. Black Sheep interviewed the Canadian director this week. Click here for the interview.

The Doug Liman film, FAIR GAME, finally snuck into the Top 10 on 386 screens. It shouldn't make it much higher mind you. Poised to capture a spot very shortly though is the Danny Boyle platform success, 127 HOURS (click title for review). This week's gross improved another 108% after adding another 86 screens. And it was a modest debut for British export, MADE IN DAGENHAM. The Nigel Cole film pulled in an average of $13K per screen on just 3 screens. Look for Black Sheep's interview with the director later this week. The fantastic film expands next Friday.

NEXT WEEK: It's turkey time which means way too much to eat at the theatre. Four films open on Wednesday in wide release and each is as fattening as the next. In descending order of screens, they are Disney's TANGLED (3500), Cher's BURLESQUE (2800), Jakey-pooh's LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS (2300) and The Rock's return to action, FASTER (2300). Best Picture front runner, THE KING'S SPEECH, starring Colin Firth, opens on 4 screens on Friday. Read the Black Sheep review for it now though. Just click here.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Written by Steve Kloves
Directed by David Yates
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and Ralph Fiennes

Harry Potter: Blimey, Hermione!

Everyone who experiences the Harry Potter saga on film can be categorized into two separate groups – those who have read the books beforehand and those who have not. Those who have read them have likely read them several times. They know exactly what each film will bring, just not how it will bring it. For the rest of us, the young wizard exists only on the big screen and never has his world looked so great or been as engaging as in HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART ONE. No matter which group you belong to though, the Harry Potter film experience is entering its final chapter and the anticipation is palpable.

Director David Yates has outdone himself this time out. Despite the enormous amount of pressure on his back to bring one of film history’s biggest franchises to a satisfying and successful close, he seems to be flying through the Harry Potter universe with incredible ease after piloting the last three films. Yates also helms the second half of “The Deathly Hallows” but first he has masterfully and delicately handled this decidedly dark first half, where nothing is as it was. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his most trusted allies, Hermione and Ron (Emma Watson and Rupert Grint) do not return to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, like they do at the beginning of each previous installment. No, now this trio of role models to children the world over are officially dropouts, but with good reason of course. Harry must soon fulfill his destiny as the one who lived to vanquish he who used to not be named (psst .. that's Voldemort – Ralph Fiennes). I know how it sounds but if you made it this far, you must have bought into this already and it’s still surprisingly compelling.

I can only imagine that J.K.Rowling’s last book operated in much the same fashion as Steve Kloves’ screenplay. Kloves has written every one of the Harry Potter films and in HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART ONE, he oscillates between somber, dark, sometimes downright frightening moments and a warm, nostalgic yearning for seemingly simpler times. As the series nears its end, familiar faces, places and things resurface to honour both the history and the fans while new addition to the Harry Potter family, cinematographer, Eduardo Serra, lenses the Harry Potter landscape with depth and grandeur unlike anything I’ve seen in the first six films. The mounting magnificence of the Harry Potter films is infectious and to remain so fresh and relevant so many years later is some of the best magic I’ve ever seen.

For further Harry Potter Black Sheep reviews, just click the titles below:

Black Sheep interviews Paul Haggis

Haggis These Days
An interview with Paul Haggis

Films remade for American audiences are controversial to say the least. “I figured if Scorcese could do it, so could I,” quips Canadian born film director, Paul Haggis, referring to his third directorial effort, THE NEXT THREE DAYS, a remake of the 2008 French film, POUR ELLE. It’s a bold statement to put yourself on the same plain as an American film master like Martin Scorcese, especially when you’re a London, Ontario native who has only been making films for seven years now. When you consider that Haggis has been nominated for five Academy Awards and won two in that little time though, both for his breakout debut, CRASH, it doesn’t seem like such a stretch anymore. Incidentally, that’s one more Oscar than Scorcese has.

“There had to be questions that I wanted to ask on the nature of love and the nature of belief.” These questions would become the justification for the remake and how Haggis would make the film very much his own. They’re not the only reason he wanted to make this movie though. “I had always wanted to do a thriller, always wanted to do a caper movie.” His eyes light up when he says this. Boys will always be boys.

THE NEXT THREE DAYS is based on the central premise of POUR ELLE, where a teacher must take desperate action when his life has reached a seemingly impossible crossroads. His wife is in prison for murder and despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, he never falters in his belief of her innocence. When her last appeal fails, he sees her lose interest in living and he sees their son heading down the same path. If he doesn’t do something, he will lose what matters most to him in his life, his family.

The solution is to break his wife out of a maximum-security prison and then disappear. Now, that might not be what you or I would do, but if anyone were going to sell this as the only viable solution, it would be Oscar winner, Russell Crowe. Crowe signed on to the project early on and played a heavy hand in shaping his character, John Brennan, a man who isn’t remarkable for anything other than his conviction and commitment. “As soon as he read the script, he knew what I was going for,” Haggis shares when we meet in Toronto the day before THE NEXT THREE DAYS opens in theatres. Despite Crowe’s reputation for being difficult, Haggis insists they explored the internal and complicated nature of John Brennan at length and openly. “We talked a lot. I like when an actor is secure enough to ask questions and challenge you and the director is secure enough to listen and isn’t threatened by that.”

Not only is Haggis able to foster a healthy relationship with a man reputed for unhealthy working relationships, he also pulls an impressive and unexpected performance from his female lead, Elizabeth Banks. “I like taking actors and putting them in roles that surprise you,” says Haggis. “I think if you see actors playing the same roles over and over again, there is no sense in going to the theatre.” And you’ve never seen Banks like this before. As a convicted but potentially innocent killer, she never lets on whether she did or didn’t do what she’s accused of and she does that with great poise. Haggis definitely thinks people will be surprised to see her. “It’s a great gift for an audience to say, ‘Oh, look at her do that.’”

Of course, beyond its solid performances, including brief appearances by Liam Neeson, RZA, Daniel Stern, Brian Dennehy and Olivia Wilde, THE NEXT THREE DAYS is as sharp and as tense as it is because of Haggis’ incredibly grounded screenplay. Haggis, who writes more often than he directs, took an extreme hands on approach to writing this particular caper. He actually placed himself in the position of a prison escapee to plot just how John Brennan would do it. “I just googled how to break out of prison,” Haggis explains, fully serious. Having access to the Pittsburgh prison that is a central setting in the film, Haggis put his internal con man to work. “I got outside the jail and then said, ‘What if I got out? What do I do now?’ And then, ‘Oh look, a train. Will they be waiting at the next station?’” Whether his plan would actually work or not is not the issue. It’s the geographical and circumstantial reality of his plan that makes it believable. “I guess I’m enough of a con to figure it out myself.”

THE NEXT THREE DAYS is Haggis’ third film as director and his first thriller. His approach to direction is still the same though despite the genre change. “I try not to watch any movies when I’m making my own,” he confides. I understand this approach; I don’t read other reviews until mine is written. Who needs outside influence when you’re trying to create? “I really try to stay in that world and let the film find its own imagery and its own voice.”

The voice found in THE NEXT THREE DAYS is a complex one. It is a particularly adult voice and one that Haggis hopes will be heard. “I believe in this kind of a movie. I think there is an audience for it. I think people like to be challenged and I think they like to be entertained.”

Any audience that sees THE NEXT THREE DAYS will see a thriller that is as taut as they come but that still somehow honours love in its purest form, without ever feeling forced or far fetched. “It’s a love story,” Haggis asserts without hesitation. “There is something transformative about believing in somebody that much, even when they can’t believe in themselves.”

Escape from prison, run from the law, risk your life, I guess none of that matters when the reason you’re doing it is love. And after sitting with Haggis for just a half hour, it is pretty clear that he makes movies for the exact same reason.

Author's Note: Mr. Haggis was an excellent interview. I could have easily gone on about our conversation for another 1000 words. Maybe one day, I will.

I want to give a big thanks to the fantastic team at Maple Pictures for making this interview possible. I genuinely appreciate it.

For further Paul Haggis reading, here are past Black Sheep reviews for his films:
(click to read.)






Monday, November 15, 2010

Couch Time with Sheldon

This weekend in Toronto was one extreme to another. Saturday was gorgeous out and Sunday was anything but. I spent some of Saturday taking in the sunshine to alleviate a bad mood. I then spent Sunday in a much better mood but stuck inside with all the cold rain falling outside. Being stuck wasn't without its advantages though. I had the chance to catch up on my stack of films to review. Each film brought a new mood. The day went from confused to disgusted to downright jubilant. Here's how ...

I got this movie from Zip.ca over two months ago. When I saw it still sitting at the bottom of my pile, I decided to cancel my Zip.ca account. I couldn't let the film go to waste though so I popped it in Sunday morning. Peter Sellers is Chance, a man who has lived his entire life within the confines of one home until he is forced into the real world. He knows nothing of life nor has he ever developed mentally and as he walks up and down the streets of Washington, past the other homeless people, I had no idea how to interpret his plight. I felt like this was meant to be amusing but all I felt was great fear for this individual. He has no tools to deal with society but yet somehow he not only manages but manages to convince everyone he encounters that he is practically prophetic. Sellers is sensational so subsequently I couldn't believe that no one could tell he was so special. (Warner Bros.)


Lars von Trier is not for everyone. I am a big fan of DANCER IN THE DARK and DOGVILLE but I would never dream of recommending them to anyone who likes their movies light or easy. With ANTICHRIST, I can't think of anyone I would recommend the film to, except perhaps some of the contrarian film students I used to know. Within minutes of the film starting, you get to see the prologue of the piece. While Willem Dafoe is having passionate (and full on graphic) sex with Charlotte Gainsbourg on the bathroom floor, their young toddler gets out of his crib and falls out the window, plummeting to his death in some of the most glorious cinematography I've seen all year. I didn't want to be seeing what I was seeing but it still looked good. And thus begins the punishment of these two people for having sex. If the horrifying acts of torture the couple inflict upon each other don't make you ill, the appalling misogynist agenda will. If neither does, than perhaps you are the antichrist. (eOne)

I would have been happy to watch almost anything after that last disaster but boy am I glad it was Robert Wise's Best Picture Oscar winning musical, THE SOUND OF MUSIC. And do those hills ever come alive on blu-ray! This 45th anniversary edition is spectacularly transfered and completely addictive. You know the story and the songs already but they never cease to get old. I was slightly taken aback when they sang, "How do you solve a problem like Maria?" as she is about to get married, seemingly answering their own question with some good old fashioned sexism, but it's 45 years old! Maria's journey to find the best channel to express her great love for the planet and all of its beauty is infectious and timeless. There is a reason this one is a classic after all. And her name is Julie Andrews. (20th Century Fox)

Here's a run down of what else hits shelves today ... The AVATAR "Collector's Edition" is now available - it's bluer now ... I believe I said Jim Carrey's A CHRISTMAS CAROL was out last week. Wrong. It's out now ... M. Knight Shaymalan's THE LAST AIRBENDER hit shelves and that is exactly where I will be leaving it ... Right next to CATS AND DOGS 2 ... And my personal rental recommendation of the week is Lisa Cholodenko's fantastic family dramedy, THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, featuring one of the best ensemble's of the year, Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson. I will be watching it on my couch tonight! (Click here to read the original KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT Black Sheep review.)

Source: Blu-ray.com