Monday, April 25, 2011

Black Sheep interviews Charles Officer

An interview with MIGHTY JEROME writer/director,

In 2002, Toronto-born filmmaker, Charles Officer, was asked to be someone’s date to the Harry Jerome Awards, an annual event that honours excellence among the African-Canadian population. Although he knew the name going in – the late Jerome famously ran track for Canada – he did not know the incredible history that shaped Jerome’s legacy. He was inspired at the time but he had no idea just how great an impact Jerome would have on his life, let alone that he would become the subject of his second feature film, entitled Mighty Jerome.

Five years later, Officer would come face to face with the track star once again, when the National Film Board approached him to potentially direct a feature documentary about Jerome’s life. At that time, Officer had only directed a handful of shorts and had yet to focus his passion on filmmaking, coming from a background that included graphic design, architecture, acting and even professional hockey. He had not even begun shooting his first feature, Nurse.Fighter.Boy, which would go on to earn the writer/director 10 Genie nominations after a successful festival run. Suffice it to say, he was a bit taken aback by the NFB’s interest. Not one to cower though, Officer attacked the opportunity with the same fervor Jerome might have attacked a race.

“I had heard about this man before but I only knew that he was a fast runner, not what he actually accomplished,” Officer tells me when we meet just days before Mighty Jerome bows at the prestigious Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. “I was nervous as hell but I just came at it from that naïve place. I was so nervous that I over prepared.”

Officer’s preparation would ultimately win him the job over a handful of other directors. Having never made a documentary though, he would now have to figure out just what that entailed. “I wanted to push the experience,” he says, with clear sincerity in his tone. “There are formulas that work but it really comes down to the story and how you’re going to interpret that cinematically.” Officer chose to do so in delectable black and white, breaking up his time between touching and engaging testimonials, extensive archival footage and striking recreations.

To become more intimately familiar with Jerome’s life, Officer began by interviewing the people who knew him best, from the coach that brought him back from the brink of oblivion, Bill Bowerman, to his surprisingly supportive ex-wife, Wendy Jerome. “This guy affected his friends in a deep way,” says Officer, clearly also impacted by their vast admiration. “Sometimes, before interviews even started, people would break down.”

While the interviews would shape Officer’s treatment for the film, it didn’t hurt that the story he was telling was so naturally compelling to begin with. Jerome broke out onto the international track scene in 1960 when he tied the 100-meter dash world record at the time. He instantly became a national hero and Canada’s greatest hope for a gold medal at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, Italy. When he failed to place there due to an injury, the backlash from the Canadian press was not only unduly harsh but it also exposed a Canadian attitude towards race that had prior to this been neatly hidden beneath a polite surface.

“What Harry experienced was paramount to how we saw Canadian politics with the civil rights movement at that time,” Officer states. “We don’t hear about certain elements of that struggle [in Canada] and we also don’t hear about how we’ve grown.”

Out of his hardships, Jerome would also grow to earn an underdog status on the world track circuit and we all know how much people love comeback stories. “It’s such a Hollywood story, dying so young, achieving all he did and the racism,” Officer gushes. “I was like, why hasn’t this already been made? Why haven’t I seen this already?”

One could argue that Jerome’s story was just waiting for the right person to tell it. Mighty Jerome is after all a fine piece of cinema. The uncannily natural arc to Jerome’s life might have made the structure of the film a little easier to piece together but it is Officer’s calculated and concerted effort to tell that story with distinction and respect that ensures it crosses that finish line triumphantly. And now that the race is over, “I am so hungry to dive in creatively now,” Officer exclaims, eyes beaming. “I just want to get to my next film.”

Just like an athlete, always thinking about the next race.

Mighty Jerome screens at Hot Docs on Friday, April 29, 9:30 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox, Saturday, April 30, 11:20 AM @ the Isabel Bader Theatre and Sunday, May 8, 4:30 PM at The Revue cinema. For more information, please visit Hot Docs online.

The film then makes it's way to the 27th Vue d'Afriques festival in Montreal before a Canadian theatrical run. For more information on the film, please visit NFB online.

This story originally appeared in Hour Community.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


Written and Directed by John Requa and Glenn Ficarra
Starring Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor and Leslie Mann

Phillip Morris: Enough romance. Let's Fuck.

I suppose it is fitting that a movie about a man who never quite grasps who he truly is should suffer from the same issues. I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS is a rather ridiculous account of the life of Steven Jay Russell, an American con man with an uncanny ability to break out of prisons. On one of his fateful visits to the big house, he met the love of his life, Phillip Morris, and proceeded to break them both out of prison so that they could live happily ever after. His story has it all, from dangerous escapes to fraudulent scams to even gay prison sex but yet somehow, in the hands of writing/directing team, John Requa and Glenn Ficarra (CATS & DOGS), his life amounts to nothing more than a big old boring mess.

Russell was adopted as a baby. He grew up to become a police officer in a small town. He married and had children. He felt abandoned but aside from that gaping hole in his heart, he was content. He was at least until one day, when he got into an automobile accident and decided he had enough of living a lie. It was time for Russell to live as an out and proud homosexual. He divorced, moved to Miami and got himself a cute, younger boyfriend and, if you are to believe the incredibly tacky clichéd picture the directors paint, he also got too matching miniature dogs to parade up and down the street with said younger, cuter boyfriend. There was just one tiny problem; being gay is expensive and Russell had no skills that could afford him the lavish lifestyle he and his boy toy had grown accustomed to.

This is when Russell turned to insurance fraud. It is also the point where the film starts to get thoroughly lost. Russell is played by Jim Carrey, who is the first person who comes to my mind when I picture believable gay men strutting down Miami Beach in white cargos and a T-shirt that is two sizes too small. I guess the costume people wanted to make sure there was no confusion over his sexuality, just in case it wasn’t coming through in the performance. I personally think Carrey doesn’t get the credit he deserves for some of his dramatic turns but the trouble here is he can’t seem to decide whether this particular turn is meant to be dramatic or comedic. I’m sure he had no assistance from his directors mind you. There are some genuine attempts at touching moments in the film and Carrey handles them as well as he can but then the next scene will rely solely on Carrey’s humorous side, only without the actual humour.

And what of Phillip Morris? I mean, he is in the title and all. Phillip Morris is another minor offender doing time, played by Ewan McGregor, who is as swishy as he can be with his pretty blue eyes and horrifically dyed strawberry blond hair. The twosome meet in a library one day and it is love at first sight. Well, they stare longingly into each other’s eyes for no reason other than the fact that they are gay and standing next to each other so naturally I assume this is the great love it is meant to be. Once together, I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS doesn’t seem to know what to do with them or itself. Is it a comedy or a serious romance? Is this really the treatment of someone’s life story? Because if it is, it plays as though it were completely made up or implausible. More importantly, is the intended audience meant to be gay or straight? It shouldn’t matter but there are moments when it isn’t clear whether the filmmakers are laughing with or at their heroes. To that extent though, I guess it doesn’t matter who the audience is meant to be as I don’t see there being much of an audience for this film at all.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


Directed by Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey
Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson

Do you know what is amazing about nature? For me, it is that, despite being so complex, it unfolds without any evident intervention and more often than not, without the notice it deserves. You might even say nature just happens “naturally”. You might not though if you a) had no desire to make anyone’s eyes roll back into their head and b) if you were the creative team behind Disney Nature’s third offering, AFRICAN CATS. Directors Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey are both gentlemen with backgrounds in nature photography – Fothergill even worked on Disney Nature’s EARTH and the wildly successful BBC series that film was based on, Planet Earth. There is no question that they do an incredible job capturing breathtaking shots of a lush savanna in southwestern Kenya and its awesome inhabitants but what they do with them is nothing short of manipulation.

Samuel L. Jackson tells us from the very beginning that AFRICAN CATS is the story of two mothers, a lioness named Layla and a cheetah named Sita, and their struggles to raise their cubs in the wild. My first thought was how does Jackson know their names? Had they been formally introduced? I was then told that animals on preserves, like the Maasai Mara National Reserve where AFRICAN CATS was shot, are given names. Fine, he had me there. And surely the experts on the preserve have been observing these majestic animals for years, therefore able to make educated assumptions about their behaviour patterns and motivations. When Jackson laments about one lioness’s sadness as she limps off into the sunset to die alone though, complete with heart-tugging string score accompaniment of course, it becomes a bit of a stretch to think anyone can get that deep into a lion’s head. That said, when the action on screen gets violent – and it does, Mom’s and Dad’s – Jackson sounds as if he might at any moment break into his famous PULP FICTION speech. Those lesser animals will know the lion is the lord when he lays his vengeance upon them alright.

Like any documentary, you cannot know how your subject matter will play out ahead of time. You have to pick what you think is going to be most compelling and follow it in hopes that it lives up to its potential. Plenty happens in AFRICAN CATS and it is engaging action. Empires are challenged and fought for; hunts happen regularly; there are even plenty of “Awwww …” moments between the cubs and their prides. The melodramatic elements of the script that are assigned to the action feel forced and thin though, binding nature too tightly to the story just often enough to throw the film’s authenticity into question. Did this really happen when it did or did they move the action around so that the narrative still made sense? We can’t know for sure so we have to take their word for it. When you dress something up as much as AFRICAN CATS does nature though, it makes me wonder how much of that word I can really take.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Written by Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Cathy Moriarty

Jake LaMotta: Hey Ray! Never went down man. You never got me down, Ray.

When Martin Scorsese’s RAGING BULL was released theatrically in 1980, it was actually not as well received as you might think. Scorsese’s sixth feature film is generally today considered to be one of the best American films ever made but at the time, it was a bit much for many. Today, we are accustomed to unlikable protagonists. In 1980, to kick back and enjoy a film about Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro), a boxer who fights just as hard with himself, and the people in his life, as he does with his opponents in the ring, was likely just as jarring as any given boxing match would be for a non-boxing enthusiast. Shot in stunning black and white, Scorsese does not pull any punches with RAGING BULL, allowing all the abuse, violence and overall paranoia that consumed LaMotta’s life to take center stage on screen. After 10 crazy rounds, its hard not feel knocked out.

Jake LaMotta is a Bronx born fighter. He began his professional boxing career at the age of 19 and would go on to win the middleweight championship before retiring in the 1950’s. After leaving boxing behind him because of injuries, he went on to a life as a nightclub owner and moonlighted as an actor and comedian. In his entire life, he has been married six times and has four children. In RAGING BULL, his first marriage is essentially glossed over, allowing the majority of the focus to be placed on his second wife, Vikki (Cathy Moriarty) and their tumultuous time together during Jake’s boxing years. The film also focuses heavily on Jake’s relationship with his brother, Joey (Joe Pesci), whose character is essentially an amalgamation of Jake’s brother and his best friend, Pete, for simplicity purposes. While it may be based in truth, adapted from LaMotta’s own memoirs, it is definitely not a biopic in any traditional sense.

Scorsese has credited RAGING BULL and De Niro in the past for saving his life. It was De Niro who convinced Scorsese that he needed to kick the cocaine habit that had put him in the hospital in the late 1970’s after an overdose. It was also De Niro who convinced Scorsese that RAGING BULL was the perfect project to return to filmmaking with. And while Scorsese’s direction in the film is certainly some of his finest ever, in many ways, RAGING BULL is more De Niro’s triumph than anyone else’s. De Niro had wanted to make the picture ever since he read LaMotta’s book while making THE GODFATHER PART II and it is easy to see why. By playing a character as complex as LaMotta, De Niro is able to explore every facet of human emotion, from love and anger to pride and humiliation. He wears LaMotta’s demons like a second skin, even going so far as to put on sixty pounds to portray LaMotta in his later years. His passion for the project, which also included casting influence and uncredited work on the script, certainly paid off, as he took home the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance.

Of course Scorsese and De Niro were a team back then; RAGING BULL was their fourth picture together. (They would go on to make seven in total.) As good as De Niro is in the film, it is Scorsese’s deliberate filmmaking choices that frame the brilliant performance and make it into an iconic one. While Scorsese must have known the film would stand out just based on the violent nature of it’s subject matter, he chose to film it in black and white in order to further differentiate it from other boxing films in production at the time. The lack of colour is also more appropriate for the period and tones down the blood in the fight sequences. Scorsese also plays with the speed of the film at times, slowing down certain moments as if they are being burnt in LaMotta’s brain for all eternity. These moments range from a close-up of Vikki’s feet splashing in a pool the first time he sees her to the gloved fist of another fighter coming down on him during a pivotal match. The skill with which Scorsese brings this chaotic story to its close is unmatched by many even to this day and you can feel him fighting for it just as hard as LaMotta does at all times.

As unnerving as RAGING BULL is, it is a far more quiet and introspective experience than one would expect it to be. And as much as it is a boxing movie (albeit there is only truly ten minutes of actual fight footage), it is much more of a character study, and an unforgettable one at that. LaMotta, or at least his screen incarnation, is a small-minded man, afraid that he will go through life without getting his supposed due. He fights for notice and when he has it, he doesn’t know how to hold on to it without crushing it or fully abusing it. He wants to do everything on his own and, in doing so, ends up completely alone. And once a bull has stopped seeing red and finished running everyone out of the streets he has always known, what is he meant to do with all that pent up rage?

(Courtesy 20th Century Fox)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Best of Black Sheep: RABBIT HOLE

Written by David Lindsay-Abaire
Directed by John Cameron Mitchell
Starring Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest and Sandra Oh

Becca: I like that thought. Somewhere out there, I'm having a good time.

There are times in our lives where we all find ourselves falling down a hole we didn’t see coming. We are just merrily making our way through the world we know when suddenly, and when we’re not necessarily paying attention, we find ourselves plummeting. While falling alone can be horrifying enough, tumbling down the same hole with your partner can be incredibly difficult and alienating. Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart play parents who have recently lost their young son, Danny, to a car accident, in the delicate drama, RABBIT HOLE. Fortunately for them, director John Cameron Mitchell is there to catch them before they hit the ground.

Mitchell made a name for himself when he first wrote, directed and starred in the film adaptation of his own Off-Broadway show, HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH (click title for review). His exploration of the marginally sexual not only continued its prevalence in his second feature, SHORTBUS, but it would go places most would never dare. In his third and decidedly most accessible work to date, RABBIT HOLE, Mitchell almost abandons sexuality entirely and turns his focus on grief and loss. I use the word, “accessible” loosely, as there is nothing easy about going down this particular hole. David Lindsay-Abaire’s adaptation of his Pulitzer Prize-winning stage play, looks at a couple suffering the unbearable loss of their only child, a story that we have seen a number of times before, and makes it feel like the individual experience it has to be.

Joining Kidman and Eckhart along their journey towards catharsis feels like a privilege, like we don’t really have the right to be there. Each of their experiences is so separate from the other’s, but you can always feel that they are fighting somewhere deep underneath their own hardship to find their way back to each other. Eckhart is strong as a husband who is struggling with doing everything he can not to forget but Kidman is just plain unforgettable. She is doing everything she can to heal, including reaching out to the young boy who was driving the car that killed her son, but she can’t tell if anything is actually working. After all, what level of sadness is needed to let go and see the world the way it once was? That’s the thing about rabbit holes though, both in metaphoric terms and in regards to this film, you’re not the same for having gone down them.

Friday, April 15, 2011


Written by Kevin Williamson
Directed by Wes Craven
Starring Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette

Rachel: These sequels don't know when to stop.

Fifteen years after director, Wes Craven, and original writer, Kevin Williamson, scared the crap out of unsuspecting moviegoers initially, they have finally reunited to resurrect the SCREAM franchise. Original cast members, Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette have returned for SCREAM 4 as well and are joined by fresh faces, Emma Roberts and Hayden Panettiere, to name just a couple. With all this pedigree to back it up, this sequel / reboot / remake has a lot to lose and expectations going in will not be high considering how disappointing the third installment was. This might work to their advantage though because no one will ever expect SCREAM 4 to be anywhere near as good as it actually is.

There is no real need to divulge too much plot here; the element of surprise is key as you well know. I will say though that, a decade later, good old tortured Sidney Prescott (Campbell) – who for some reason still answers her phone – has finally turned her life around and published a book about no longer being a victim. Her promo tour finds her back in her hometown of Woodsboro, just in time for the anniversary of the original massacre. And you know Ghostface is not going to just let an anniversary go by without slicing up a few more fast-talking, movie-loving teenagers. The return to Ghostface’s home turf is certainly a welcome one. Not only does it allow for plenty of bloody nostalgia but it also removes the focus from the “Stab” film series, a film-within-a-film device that was taking all the serrated edge out of the actual series. Besides, all of Williamson’s delicious nods and winks to the original make SCREAM 4 an actual film within another, without obviously trying so hard.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about SCREAM 4 is that it actually exists. Craven began shooting on SCREAM 4 without a finished script because Williamson and producer, Bob Weinstein, couldn’t agree on some of the major plot elements. Before they were able to come to any conclusive agreement, Williamson had to return to honour his contract as a story developer on TV’s The Vampire Diaries. SCREAM 3 screenwriter, Ehran Kruger, was called in to smooth over the rough edges in Williamson’s script and even in the weeks approaching the release of the new film, Williamson had yet to even see the finished version. Still, all parties involved insist that the drama in no way took away from their support for the project. After all, SCREAM made Williamson a hot commodity, reinvigorated Craven’s career and put Miramax on the map.

The SCREAM series has always been about the rules, from honouring them to completely circumventing them. They now have an even bigger challenge – to reinvent the rules. Society has gotten a lot more violent and a lot more digital in the last decade and SCREAM has to keep up with the times. By incorporating more modern elements like video streaming and cyber-stalking into Ghostface’s bag of tricks, SCREAM 4 feels relevant and revitalized, like it needed to be made. How’s that for a new rule then? A successful horror franchise should only come back if there is actually fresh blood to be drawn instead of just to bleed it dry. Fortunately for SCREAM fans everywhere, the crimson corn syrup continues to flow freely from Ghostface’s blade.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


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:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Written by Reginald Rose
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Starring Henry Fonda, Martin Balsam, Jack Ward and Lee J. Cobb

Take twelve grown men and stick them in a room with no fans in the middle of a sweltering heat wave and you’re darn right, they’re going to get angry. Lock them in there while they debate an accused murderer’s guilt, potentially sending him to his own death, and that anger is bound to get blistering. As these twelve men sit opposite each other and the time wears on, patience wears even thinner. Soon, it becomes difficult to decipher whether it’s the heat or the pressure that is making everyone sweat. The room itself could implode from the amount of palpable tension in the air but yet somehow it doesn’t. Take all of this and put it on film in 1957 and you have 12 ANGRY MEN, an unlikely triumph from a then unknown director.

You would think only a finely honed director could maintain the kind of intensity 12 ANGRY MEN requires in order to be successful, but it is actually the work of a first time filmmaker. Sidney Lumet had worked in television for six years behind the camera when the producers insisted they would only go ahead with this project with Lumet in charge. (Incidentally, the producers are writer, Reginald Rose, and star, Henry Fonda.) Lumet would go on to helm such influential classics as NETWORK and DOG DAY AFTERNOON, but he started his illustrious film career with this incredibly daunting task of a project. To increase the tension in the room as well as make viewers feel as if they were actually in it, Lumet shot the film’s earlier scenes with wider lenses but the later scenes with much tighter framing. This draws the viewer in subtly and eventually claustrophobia is rampant. It is this kind of thinking that would earn him his first of four Academy Award nominations for direction and deservedly so.

Rose’s screenplay, based on his own original teleplay, is concise and calculated from the very start. He chooses not to divulge the trial details to the audience ahead of time. Instead, we learn about the trial at the same time as the jury picks it apart. The case at hand will decide the fate of an 18-year-old African American boy, who in 1957 was simply referred to as “one of those people” by a couple of the choice jurors. He is accused of stabbing his allegedly abusive father four times and leaving him for dead. A man upstairs heard a fight and the thud of a body hitting the floor while a woman in a building across the street saw the boy do it through her bedroom window. The evidence seems convincing and the boy’s history seems to point toward violent tendencies but it is the colour of his skin that connects all of these dots and proves his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt for every juror in the room but one.

The sole holdout is Juror #8 (Fonda). He seems to be the only person of any true character in the room, or perhaps the only one brave enough to stand behind it. His inclination is leaning toward guilty but he knows something that no one else in the room does. He knows that everyone there accepted every supposed fact that was handed to them by the prosecution because the man on trial has black skin. He also knows that everyone had essentially made up their minds the moment they first saw the boy enter the courtroom. It becomes his personal mission to wake each individual juror up from their own prejudice without calling them directly out on it. To do so, he sheds light on each of the major points offered into evidence at trial and allows each person the opportunity to see that their judgment may have been unknowingly clouded. It’s only an open and shut case after all if you just shut it right away without opening it any further.

12 ANGRY MEN was not a success theatrically when it was initially released but is now considered by many to be one of the greatest American films of all time. The fact that it endures so well is a testament to its delicate craftsmanship and to the ideals it boldly stands for. Rose’s words are brave and resonate still to this day while Lumet’s approach allows for his audience to enjoy and participate in an experience not often had at the movies, a cerebral one. Sadly, 12 ANGRY MEN also still endures because if you were to take another twelve men and stick them in that same room today, I’m not sure the conversation would go so differently.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Written by Seth Lochhead and David Farr
Directed by Joe Wright
Starring Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett

Hanna: I just missed your heart.

As far as one can see, it is almost a complete blur of white. When the blowing snow passes, hundreds of trees reveal themselves. There is no noise to be heard except for that of pine needles rustling against each other and the occasional deer hoof cracking the otherwise pristine sea of snow on the ground. And while it appears to be the most remote corner of the world, untouched by mankind, there is a little girl hiding unnoticed amongst the trees and she intends to take down that deer. This is no ordinary girl though; this is Hanna, the title character in director, Joe Wright’s latest film. And just like the girl, HANNA is no ordinary movie.

At 16, Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) has never left her home in the woods. Her father, Erik (Eric Bana), raised her there from a very young age, only he wasn’t really raising her so much as he was preparing her. Wright reveals both her mission and her history very slowly and while his calculated restraint creates great intrigue, it is Ronan herself, working with Wright a second time after he directed her to an Oscar nomination in ATONEMENT, that cements the fascination factor. Her focus is uncanny, as she memorizes countless facts and trains relentlessly every day and her resolve is shockingly powerful for someone so young. She may not know what she is fighting for but fighting is all she has ever known and she is deeply committed to her father and his cause. Ronan carries HANNA almost entirely on her own and with almost as much intensity and bravery as her character must possess in order to survive.

Hanna is after a CIA agent by the name of Marissa (Cate Blanchett) and once Marissa knows Hanna is gunning for her, it becomes pretty difficult to decipher just which of the two is the hunter and which is the hunted. Blanchett plays Marissa as cold and deliberate, despite the warmth of her Southern drawl and her fiery red hair. Still, she knows something we don’t; she knows that Hanna is a force to be reckoned with and why that is exactly. She also knows that Hanna may have her priorities but that the world she now finds herself in – from Morocco to Berlin – will present a great number of distractions and that, despite her training, Hanna is still a 16-year-old girl and therefore curious. As good as Blanchett is though, Ronan’s ease keeping up with her shows incredible promise of what’s to come.

HANNA is an exhilarating film made by a filmmaker who isn’t afraid to make drastically different departures in his career. Wright makes strong choices with clear intention throughout the film, cutting back and forth between more natural settings and starkly contrasting modern motifs. The game at play is further driven forward by a Chemical Brothers score that is oddly sparse at times while explosive and frenetic at others. It is simply one of those pictures where you can see that everyone involved in the production is bringing their best work to the screen and that none of these contributors are afraid of the unfamiliar. The enthusiasm is undeniably infectious and the experience will not be easily forgotten.

Thursday, April 07, 2011


Written by Danny McBride and Ben Best
Directed by David Gordon Green
Starring Danny McBride, James Franco, Zooey Deschanel, Justin Theroux
and Natalie Portman

Isabel: It is my legacy to do anything to stop those who fuck to make dragons.

I don’t know about you but if I am going to get high, it’s because I want to laugh and have a good time. Apparently, when Danny McBride wants to get high, he would rather be painfully unfunny instead, and then drag all of the good people who spent their hard-earned pot money on a ticket to his new movie, YOUR HIGHNESS, down with him into his own personal hell of a bad trip. Not since Harold and Kumar got their dumb asses stuck in a certain detention facility have I had such a sobering experience at a stoner movie.

I spent most of YOUR HIGHNESS with my mouth wide open in stupefied awe of what I was watching. Wait. Was that a mechanical bird I just saw in this medieval setting? Hold on a second. Is James Franco masturbating that strangely unconvincing, Yoda-like alien creature? Uh, is that a minotaur’s penis I see and is it erect? Between all this nonsense and the broken “Ye Olde English” mixed with random cuss word diaglogue, I had no idea what was going on most of the time. And I was sober! Imagine the poor folks who actually prepared ahead of time to see this movie the way it was intended to be seen. In their impaired state, how could they possibly make sense of this insanity? And if you thought James Franco was bad at the Oscars, wait until you hear him sing.

Somewhere behind all the smoke, there is something resembling a plot in YOUR HIGHNESS. Whiny younger prince, Thadeus (McBride), lives in the shadow of older brother, Fabius (Franco). Together, they embark on a quest to stop some wizard type (Justin Theroux) from impregnating Fabius’s new virginal love (Zooey Deschanel) with a dragon baby. That’s right; I said dragon baby. Natalie Portman shows up half way through to kick some random monsters but doesn’t serve much other purpose. (She probably only did 5% of the ass-kicking anyway.) Aside from that though, it is pretty much one completely pointless scene after another, featuring a talented cast making complete boobs of themselves. (Seriously – Toby Jones: Why would you sign on to make yourself look this bad?)

Speaking of boobs, I imagine that McBride and his writing partner, Ben Best, basically inhaled as much ganja as they could before whipping out their penises, dipping them in ink, and sitting down to write YOUR HIGHNESS with them. How else could they possibly explain the total lack of reality in this film (even by fantasy standards) and the disturbing and obsessive manner in which every joke seems to lead back to McBride’s crotch? (Ladies, you have been warned – this movie is especially not for you.) YOUR HIGHNESS might have seemed like a hilarious idea high in McBride’s basement, maybe even genius by their altered standards, but on screen, the buzz is long gone before the credits are even done.

Oh, and David Gordon Green might want to try some actual direction next time.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

MAD MEN Season 4

I do not ordinarily review television shows but when the show in question is as filmic as MAD MEN is, it is pretty hard to resist. Now I, like many of you, are surely disappointed to hear that the highly anticipated fifth season of the AMC program will not be returning until 2012 but all is not lost. First of all, showrunner, Matthew Weiner was able to secure a deal that will allow for the core cast and creative team to stay in place, ensuring at least two more seasons of television's most poetic and pristine drama. Furthermore, the fourth season was just released on DVD and Blu-ray, so at least we have that to keep us busy in the meantime.

When we last left Donald Draper (Jon Hamm) and "friends", he had orchestrated a coup to take back the company that had previously been sold to a British parent conglomerate. The newly formed Sterling Cooper Draper Price was setting itself up in a hotel suite and was ready for business, with only the best of the former Sterling Cooper firm still on board. This season follows the firm's inaugural first year in business. With some months behind them, SCDP has moved into fancy new office digs and is rolling smoothly despite its modest capabilities. Still, their business is tentative as it consists mostly of one client, everyone's favorite tobacco manufacturer, Lucky Strike. The ad men have to scramble to generate new business and we've never really seen them squirm quite like this.

Meanwhile, Don's home life was nothing short of ruined. At the close of the third season, Don and Betty Draper (January Jones) have split. They are now divorced with Don living in the city and Betty already remarried to the handsome governor's aid, Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley). Their older children shuttle back and forth between them while baby Gene is inevitably learning to see Henry as his actual father, given that Don is never around. Don spends the first chunk of this season stupefied, almost as though he doesn't think any of it is real. Pity surrounds him everywhere he turns at first but Don is a smart man, as you well know. He figures before long that he is truly on his own now. While that does mean he has to deal with his past more directly, it also means that Don Draper is single, ladies.

Everyone who jumped ship with Don is back for more this season as well and there is plenty more to be had. Prodigious copywriter, Peggy Olsen (Elizabeth Moss) continues to find herself, exploring both relationships and drugs (nobody is more funny stoned than Peggy.) Office manager, Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) deals with a husband going off to war and an old flame returned during his absence. Older partner, Roger Sterling (John Slattery) must face his past while he contemplates his memoirs and ignores his current clients. Meanwhile, new partner, Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) celebrates new milestones in his personal life while trying desperately to juggle the egos in his professional life. And there is also a new addition to the cast - Montreal's own, Jessica Paré, catches the eye of a senior member of management, making her a permanent fixture in the far off fifth season.

MAD MEN Season 4 is a 13-episode exploration of uncertainty. Don Draper has forever been trying to run away from himself and he simply cannot do this any longer. The image he created of himself is collapsing and given that Don is such a giant force of nature, he seems to be dragging everyone else around him down with him. In his abandon though lies great catharsis so follow him down. You will feel lost and empty at first but you will soon be shocked into a state of presence and satisfaction that is synonymously associated with MAD MEN now. That said, the one drawback to the fourth season is how much it will have you longing for the fifth.

(Maple Pictures)