Sunday, August 28, 2011


Written by Matthew Vaughan, Jane Goldman and Peter Straughan
Directed by John Madden
Starring Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain and Tom Wilkinson

Stephan Gold: Truth is a luxury.

Debt has always been something of a dirty word but hopefully the anxiety it inspires in people won’t keep them away from the new John Madden film, entitled THE DEBT. Those who do see it will be swept up in a whole other kind of restless stress, the kind only a good thriller can provide. Madden’s remake of the 2007 Israeli film tells the story of three young Mossad agents (Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain and Martin Csokas) and their successful mission to hunt down and kill one of the worst Nazis to go missing after the war. Many years later, Ciarin Hinds, Helen Mirren and Tom Wilkinson must cover up the lies surrounding that mission that they’ve been hiding ever since.

Debt weighs you down and and the trio of combatants in THE DEBT know this all too well. Without revealing what they’re keeping secret, the secrets themselves have kept all three of them trapped in the 1960’s, when they successfully caught one of the most nefarious, infamous, and not to mention fictional, nazis ever to escape capture at the end of World War II. While they keep him under watch and await instructions as to what to do with him, things go awry. This is where the lying starts and the truth threatens to show it’s “ugly” head some 30 years later. The time passed has given the initial debt time to grow and now their lies echo around the world. While the global impact of the truth coming out would be monumental, Mirren, as Rachel Singer, is most worried her daughter will find out her mother has been lying to her for her entire life.

Aside from the clear morality lesson at play, THE DEBT, does not spend a lot of time trying to make grand statements, political or otherwise. Instead, it focuses on maintaining suspense while exposing the humanity of what it means to lie about something on such an international scale. Sure, the players are only debating coming clean now that their cover could potentially be blown but that does not take away from the weight they have carried all these years. Their personal debts have taxed them all greatly and the performances, great across the board, including yet another mesmerizing turn from Chastain, are all heavy and harrowing. It is not about emotion for them but rather everything they do is for the mission. Fortunately, Madden accomplishes his mission with style and great tension, allowing for him to make good on this debt.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Black Sheep presents The 2011 Fall Film Preview

This past weekend, I stepped out of the house in shorts and a T-shirt and immediately walked right back in, when I realized how cold it actually was outside. It felt different; it felt like fall. While some people hate the fall, I love it! It’s all sweaters and soup and a welcome farewell to the mind numbing fare of the summer movie season. And with those changing autumn leaves comes the long awaited return of the prestige picture.

Speaking of anticipation, fans of the family drama, YOU CAN COUNT ON ME, from writer/director, Kenneth Lonergan, will finally get to see his sophomore project, MARGARET this fall, some eight years after it was originally shot. Anna Paquin plays a 17-year-old girl (she was 21 at the time of filming) who witnesses an accident and begins believing she may have caused it somehow. She proceeds to slowly destroy everything in her life. In 2009, Fox Searchlight deemed the project, which also stars Matt Damon, unreleasable, but somehow, both parties have now found the path to understanding. A small mystery remains as to who had final cut.

What lies ahead isn’t entirely bleak though. Justin Timberlake continues his transition from pop star to leading man with the sci-fi thriller, IN TIME. Andrew Niccol, the writer of THE TRUMAN SHOW and the writer/director of GATTACA, returns with his first film since 2006. At this indeterminate time in our future, people are genetically designed to die at the age of 25. (I for one am glad to live in a world where I have so far had nine years past that.) People who reach this golden age are given one year to either find more time, be that legitimately or otherwise. Timberlake’s character comes into a century’s worth of time and not surprisingly, that makes him a guy a lot of people want to find. The wide-eyed Amanda Seyfried and Olivia Wilde are along for the trip.

The title, TINKER, TAILER, SOLDIER, SPY, rolls off the tongue with ease and might and, from the looks of the incredibly taut trailer, the film itself might unspool with a similar readiness. Tomas Alfredson, the Swedish director behind the 2008 international cult hit, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, marks his first English-language film with an adaptation of the John Le Carre bestselling spy novel of the same name. Gary Oldman stars as George Smiley, a character who has not been tackled since the late Alec Guiness played him in 1982. Smiley must put his retirement plans on hold in order to ascertain the identity of a mole within the deep folds on the British intelligence agency, MI6. And when that mole just might be Tom Hardy or Colin Firth, in his first post-Oscar role, you know Oldman has his work cut out for him.

Come November, it’s time for some very important things to be done. It’s time to put on makeup; it’s time to light the lights. Yes folks, it’s time to get things started with the first Muppets movie in over 20 years. Entitled simply, THE MUPPETS, this caper finds Kermit et al. banding together to save their old theatre from being destroyed by a greedy oil tycoon type. They have enlisted the likes of Amy Adams and Jason Segel to get the job done and there are plenty more cameos crammed into this welcome return to the big screen, from Neil Patrick Harris to Mila Kunis to Zach Galifianakis. Segel offers his aid in more ways than one as well. He essentially spearheaded this entire Muppets renaissance, even going so far as to co-write the screenplay.

One could argue that December is not really the fall still but while looking ahead, I see nothing wrong with looking even a little further past that at the same time. While there are many December releases to get excited about, there is one above them all that I am most drawn to. I’ve never read the THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO but I have seen all three of the Swedish films that were adapted from the Steig Larsson series. Ordinarily, I am not a fan of foreign language films being redone in English for mass market appeal but those films are not usually directed by the man behind THE SOCIAL NETWORK, David Fincher. And from the looks of the trailers, it seems to me that Fincher isn’t the least bit concerned about mass appeal. Rather, he seems intent on keeping it dark and authentic. Just in time for the holidays, no less ...

There are oodles of other movies coming, 100+ between now and the close of the year. A great deal of them will be covered in my upcoming TIFF coverage but here is a rundown of the rest for you: Director Steven Soderbergh kills off several Oscar nominees in CONTAGION; one of the most loved animated films of all time, THE LION KING, returns to theatres for a limited 3D run; Taylor Lautner tries really hard to be a big boy in the thriller, ABDUCTION; Daniel Craig plays creepy house with now wife, Rachel Weisz, in Jim Sheridan's DREAM HOUSE; Anna Faris recycles old boyfriends in WHAT'S YOUR NUMBER?; Hugh Jackman takes on robot boxing in REAL STEAL; the world gets a FOOTLOOSE remake it never wanted; Johnny Depp goes back to the world of Hunter S. Thompson in THE RUM DIARY; Michelle Williams gets her Monroe on in MY WEEK WITH MARILYN; Harold & Kumar return for a third trip in A VERY HAROLD & KUMAR 3D CHRISTMAS; Clint Eastwood takes on Hoover in J. EDGAR, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and potential love interest, Armie Hammer; Martin Scorsese goes family and 3D with HUGO; oh, and I think there should be another TWILIGHT mess in there somewhere.

Stay tuned for Black Sheep's TIFF preview next weekend and the holiday movie preview will bow near the end of November. In the meantime, bon cinema!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Written by David Schisgall and Evgenia Peretz
Directed by Jesse Peretz
Starring Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel and Emily Mortimer

Ned: I like to think that if you put your trust out there, that if you really give people the benefit of the doubt, see their best intentions, people will rise to the occasion.

Paul Rudd is practically perfect as Ned, the title character in Jesse Peretz’s Sundance breakout, OUR IDIOT BROTHER. The ownership from the title belongs to a trio of sisters played by the lovely Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel and Emily Mortimer. Talent abounds in this quaint, little comedy but the performances are almost lost in the midst of this meandering plot. Fresh from a brief stint in prison for selling pot to a police officer, Ned bounces from sister to sister to sister and teaches each of them a little something about themselves while they let him crash on their couches. Unfortunately, despite all the experience and expertise between them, Rudd and company were not able to teach Peretz anything about structure and timing.

The trouble with OUR IDIOT BROTHER is that it is pretty obvious, or at least it was to me anyway, that Ned is most certainly not an idiot. Peretz goes out of his way to make him look like one during his arrest at the opening of the film. I mean, you have to be pretty darn stupid to sell drugs to a uniformed cop but that isn’t what I took from that scene. I couldn’t figure out why this seemingly good natured, friendly police officer was so hellbent on entrapping this harmless produce vendor. Perhaps Ned is the town dealer but Peretz doesn’t bother contextualizing that at all. Nor does he bother giving us any history on the sisters that shape the film for him. The result is a lot of caricature - from a workaholic to an unhappy housewife to a promiscuous free spirit afraid to commit - and not as much character as a result. The cast easily elevates the material but there is nothing they can do to mask how it will all play out. The question as to who is the real idiot among them is a no brainer from the start.

On the one hand, I commend the filmmaker for not taking the obvious road with OUR IDIOT BROTHER. Peretz could have easily played his game in perfectly constructed episodic segments. Each would establish the appropriate archetype for each sister and Ned would come in and tear it to pieces before anyone has the time to realize it was all for the best. Instead, Peretz tries his hardest to keep things loose and fluid, having Ned constantly moving and always taking us on the scenic route. Given that we end up exactly where we expected to all along though, it seems to me there must have been a more efficient way to get there. Maybe I’m too smart for my own good though.

Monday, August 22, 2011


An interview with Morgan Spurlock

In the creative world, there is one sin that is reviled above all others – selling out. But just what is a struggling auteur filmmaker to do in these crazy times of blockbusters and bottom lines to make sure his film is still seen? Heck, how is he even going to get his quirky little movie made for that matter considering the mounting cost of the supposedly independent film? Well, he could give up a tiny bit of creative control and allow a little product placement into his latest oeuvre, but how would he even know how to get to hell if he decided to shake hands with the devil?

Enter Morgan Spurlock; the infamous documentary filmmaker recently made his latest film on location in hell and he can tell you just how you can buy in before selling out. “If you’re going to make a big movie,” Spurlock tells me over the phone, immediately following the Canadian premiere of his third documentary feature, POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD at the prestigious HotDocs Canadian International Documentary Festival in Toronto, “you need all these promotional partners to drive awareness, to create a mentality around the movie, to make it bigger than life. We bought into this whole idea.” With this in mind, Spurlock set out to make what he calls the IRON MAN of documentaries, coining the term, “docbuster”.

Just like our virgin auteur though, Spurlock did not know where to begin on his quest. To make matters worse, said quest was extremely arduous. “We sat down with people from product placement companies,” he explains of the process. “None of these people wanted to help us.” This was not for lack of any effort on Spurlock’s part; there were other forces at play. “I immersed myself in ad speak to explain to people in a way that would get them excited to work with somebody who was potentially tainted or who comes with the kind of baggage that I do from a corporate standpoint.”

For those of you unfamiliar with any reason corporations might be hesitant to work with Spurlock, you have clearly not seen SUPER SIZE ME. The 2004 Academy Award nominated documentary put Spurlock front in center as the face of the film and found him embarking on a McDonald’s only diet for 30 days. His intent was not to lambaste the fast food giant but rather to look at the health issues associated with an all fast food diet. Regardless, the damage to one specific brand was fairly clear and Spurlock was subsequently branded himself, as an anti-establishment troublemaker.

On a related topic, Spurlock did contact McDonald’s about participating in THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD. It went a little something like this. “’Hey. It’s me, Morgan. It’s going to be really different this time, I promise. Please call me back.’ They never did.”

Once upon a time, it was only known as THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD. The brand above the title would depend on which company was willing to shell out the top buy in price of $1 million. Spurlock contacted hundreds of companies to obtain sponsorship partnering for the film but would only have successful conversations with about 3% of those. “Ultimately we had to reevaluate every day as to why we were doing this,” he confides without any hesitation. “People would say there is no way we are going to let you super size our business like you did that other company.” Abercrombie & Fitch actually asked if they had to spell out to him why he wasn't the appropriate half-naked body, I mean, face to represent them. Ouch.

Spurlock did manage to snag a grand total of 22 sponsors, including major sponsor, POM Wonderful – hence the name above the title of the film. Other sponsors include Old Navy, JetBlue and Sheetz, an American convenience store chain that would get Spurlock’s face on collectible soft drink cups, a first for any documentary. Obtaining those contracts make up the first part of the film and, while accomplishing this goal was difficult enough, what would follow would seem even more insurmountable.

Getting in bed with commercial sponsors, which is where every penny of financing for this film came from, means meeting the demands they make in exchange for their large financing contributions. Sure, Spurlock could fly around the country courtesy of JetBlue and could stay at Hyatt’s wherever he went but that meant he had to include actual commercial spots he made himself for these companies in the finished product. And how is this not selling out exactly?

“We pushed back any time anyone wanted approval or final cut of the movie, which ultimately made the film stronger.” This is Spurlock’s rationale for buying in. As long as you are still calling the shots, so to speak, and the movie you make is still your own, then you are buying in, not selling out. “This way it doesn’t feel like a 90-minute commercial.”

Transparency is a key issue for Spurlock and the film’s success. Applied to advertising, transparency allows you to be clearly informed when you are being advertised to. In the context of the film, that application is expanded to shine a light on the entire process in a more extreme fashion. “We pull the curtain back and when the film is over, it changes the way you look at marketing and advertising in the real world.”

And while this is a great feat, accomplished by a great film and filmmaker, there is one other thing Spurlock has noticed on the minds of filmgoers when they’ve finished with THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD. “When you walk out of the theatre, you also mysteriously have to have a POM right away.”

Money well spent, POM Wonderful, money well spent.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Written by David Nicholls
Directed by Lone Scherfig
Starring Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess and Patricia Clarkson

Emma: I thought I'd make a difference but no one knows I'm here

Some connections are instantaneous while others can take years to come together. When it comes to love, there is no simple formula. When it comes to director, Lone Scherfig’s ONE DAY though, it’s all about formula and fortunately, it is mostly a winning one. Scherfig follows up the brilliantly understated, AN EDUCATION, with an adaptation of David Nicholls’ best-seller of the same name, which checks in with Emma and Dexter (Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess) on the 15th of July every year for twenty years. Neither love nor life come easily to this pair and watching them grow in glimpses over the years reminds us how quickly everything can slip away if we aren’t careful. Scherfig’s gentle hand allows this high concept picture to transcend gimmick, and Hathaway’s shoddy British accent, to reveal genuine emotion and inspire some pretty real sentiment as well.

By dropping in on this couple but one day a year, Scherfig could have had something terribly predictable and monotonous on her hands. Fortunately though, the much loved novel’s author is also behind the screenplay. As a result, Scherfig has the right material in front of her to balance the mundane and the monumental that is inherent in this premise. Some days go by without anything really happening at all but that’s life. There are some days even when Emma and Dexter don’t even spend July 15th together, as their lives have taken them on very different paths. The very first 15th of July we spend with them is the night of their college graduation. They barely know each other and end up in bed together but nothing happens other than of course the beginning of something beautiful. As the years go by, they each go up and down in mood and success at different times from each other, and both Hathaway and Sturgess are given the chance to grow in front of us. These young talents take on the challenge of spanning two decades and each matures as an actor in the process. By the time the end of the second decade approaches, their understanding of themselves and each other is both impressive and admirable.

The title, ONE DAY, alludes to the structure of the plot but thanks to the yearning for closeness and longing for happiness that Scherfig weaves into this picture, it touches on something far more insightful as well. As each day and each year passes without settling or success, Emma and Dexter strive toward that time in their lives when they will feel complete, whole. They work toward that one day when everything will inevitably fall into place. And while that day may not exist for all or at all, for that matter, ONE DAY will have you believing that it is still coming.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Best of Black Sheep: JANE EYRE

Written by Moira Buffini
Directed by Cary Fukunaga
Starring Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Judi Dench, Jamie Bell
and Sally Hawkins

Jane Eyre: I wish a woman could have action in her life like a man.
It agitates me to know that the horizon is our limit.

A young lady with a stern, hard look on her face leaves a large stately manor. She makes her way into the rain-soaked fields that stretch on as far as she can see. Soon, she can no longer hold back her tears and they stream down her cheeks while she forges ahead toward an unknown destination, an undetermined future On the surface, the introduction to Cary Fukunaga’s second feature, and first major production, JANE EYRE, based on the Charlotte Bronte classic, can come off as dramatic, even overly so. Fortunately for him though, the woman walking this mile in Jane Eyre’s shoes is Mia Wasikowska and it is clear from one look at her that if anyone possesses the resolve to bear the burden of Eyre’s hardships, she does.

There is a particular brand of period piece that always seems to feature women who just don’t fit into the molds society expects they should. Jane Eyre, taken in as a child by her aunt (Sally Hawkins) after her parents passed, has never been looked upon as though she matters. She has always been plain in the face and difficult to control, which renders her somewhat useless, as the only purpose a woman held at the time was to be married off. An uncontrollable tongue needs at least be camouflaged by a pretty face to make it worth the trouble. She grows up surrounded by attempts to make her conform but emerges from the torture triumphant when she pursues a position as a tutor to a young girl who comes from reasonable means. While she continues to be reminded of her place in her new surroundings, she also finds herself the object of affection of the master of the house, Mister Edward Rochester (the strapping, sturdy Michael Fassbender). No one has ever loved her before and suddenly her years of abuse endured show their far reaching ramifications.

Fukunaga entered the world film scene with his brilliant immigration drama, SIN NOMBRE(click for review) in 2009. His eye for understated beauty and sensitivity shown to character in that film are put to great use in JANE EYRE. Like his heroine, the sets and costumes are all spectacular but matted as not to overwhelm. Instead, they are further appreciated for their restraint and delicacy and the same can be said of the entire cast, led by another surprisingly potent performance by Wasikowska. She plays Eyre with so many layers that even she seems unaware of them all at times. She claims to have no tale of woe when asked what hardships she has had to suffer through and her determination to carry on despite everything she’s known is certainly commendable. However, as strong a woman as she is, she cannot escape unscathed, forcing her to learn that love for one’s self is a challenge that is always ongoing. As for allowing one’s self to be loved by another, that takes a strength we may not even know we have and this is what JANE EYRE embodies.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


Directed by Kevin Tancharoen
Starring Lea Michele, Cory Monteith and Chris Colfer

Anyone who knows me, knows I'm a big gleek. In fact, anyone who has known me for a long time, thinks I could have easily been on the hit Fox series - y'know, if I was about ten years younger and had any acting ability whatsoever, which I don't. I am the first to admit that GLEE has never been as good as it was in the first half of the first season but I still tune in every week to see the spunky little kids at McKinley High belt out my favourite pop and show tunes. Usually, I am belting them out right along with them, much to the dismay of my neighbours, I'm sure. Even with all that gleekiness surging through my veins though, I still found GLEE: THE 3D CONCERT MOVIE to be consistently off key.

I saw the GLEE show live a couple of months ago in Toronto with another gleeky friend of mine. The pair of us were on our feet the entire time and doing a fair amount of screaming for our favourite New Directions members, from Rachel (Lea Michele) and Finn (Cory Monteith) to Kurt (Chris Colfer) and Mercedes (Amber Riley). I remember being extremely impressed with their ability to sing live and overwhelmed by the energy and level of appreciation coming from the crowd. The singing made it into the movie, or at least most of it did anyway, but the energy must have ended up on the cutting room floor (along with Jane Lynch's Sue Sylvester, who was filmed for the project but ultimately not included). I can see the fans applauding; I can hear them going on and on about how GLEE changed their lives but I couldn't feel any of that love coming off the screen (with the exception of one tiny little Asian Warblers fan - that kid had the moves!). And that's despite the attempt to cram it down our face in 3D. Like GLEE itself all too often last season, this new movie just felt too perfectly manufactured at times and lacking the spirit the show once knew.

Director, Kevin Tancharoen (FAME), cuts back and forth between edited concert performances, fan footage at the shows, backstage access to the cast and three distinct gleek success stories designed to show how GLEE promotes diversity and acceptance. A little person finds her way to the head of the cheerleaders, a teenager is forcefully outed and learns that being gay is OK and a girl with asperger's syndrome finds a way to let people in. They are all touching stories to some extent but they take away from the backstage antics of the cast that this gleek wanted more of. As it is, the cast is still in character behind the scenes so the film doesn't actually offer up any inkling of what it was like for them to tour together. This was the perfect chance to get more intimate with the fans they seemed to be celebrating in the film but alas, it was wasted. Instead, I felt as though their lovely voices lured me in but once they knew they had me, they took my money and quickly rushed me out.

Regardless, I'm still on board to return to school in the fall and get my gleek back on good and proper.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Written by Michael Diliberti
Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Anzari, Danny McBride and Nick Swardson

Dwayne: Sometimes fate brings out it's big, old c@#k and smacks you right in the face with it.

I’ve decided that, in the spirit of the title of this film, I’m going to dedicate no more than 30 minutes to writing this review. In actuality though, my decision has very little to do with the title. I don’t want to dedicate any more time than this to Ruben Fleischer’s (ZOMBIELAND) second film because 30 MINUTES OR LESS plays out like he didn’t spend any more time than that on it either.

First of all, the title itself has nothing to do with this movie. Nick (Jesse Eisenberg, looking particularly pale) is a pizza delivery man-child who never meets his “30 minutes or it’s free” guarantee. He gets jumped by a couple of wannabe thugs (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson) in ape masks and when he wakes up, he has a bomb strapped to his chest. He must then rob a bank and bring back $100 grand to them so that they can in turn pay a hitman (Michael Pena) to kill one of the thug’s controlling father (Fred Ward). You would think he would have all of 30 minutes to accomplish this task but really he has 10 hours. The suspense is pretty much cut out of this picture right there.

Nick is joined by his reluctant best friend, Chet (Aziz Ansari) and they get to work through their growing pains together while they bond in this experience. The cast is solid – Ansari’s deadpan delivery is always brilliant and McBride redeems himself to me after his disastrous turn in YOUR HIGHNESS – but their random moments of mild hilarity are not enough to make up for how paper thin and half-assed this film truly is. Essentially, 30 MINUTES OR LESS will be forgotten just as quickly.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Written and Directed by Tate Taylor
Starring Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard and Octavia Spencer

Aibileen: What if you don't like what I got to say 'bout white people?

Jackson, Mississippi has a rich history but it certainly also has its fair share of shame. Great turmoil does however make for great drama in novice filmmaker, Tate Taylor’s THE HELP, based on the wildly popular novel of the same name, written by Kathryn Stockett, one of Tate’s oldest friends. They grew up together in the South and their combined familiarity with the subject gives them the distinct perspective necessary to explore the complicated dynamics between white families and the black maids that kept them together. While it is perfectly acceptable for the maids to handle the dinner and the children, it is somehow unthinkable to have them use the same toilet. That's the way it was in Jackson in 1962 and even though some practices were just a step or two away from slavery still, everybody kept to their roles with big smiles on their faces. That's just the way it was done, the way it had always been done … until someone finally started asking why.

In the 1960's, America was in the throes of the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King Jr. led a quarter million people in prayer at the March on Washington and progress seemed achievable. Meanwhile, in the South, black men and women were being beaten senseless, or worse yet killed, for any attempt to push the civil rights movement forward. It was most certainly not a good time for a black maid to sit down and recount what working for white people was really like. It would seem even more ludicrous to share these potentially damaging stories with an actual white woman. Regardless, this is what Aibileen (Viola Davis) does when Eugenia (Emma Stone) asks her, not because she's always done what white women have asked of her, but because it was time. The stories she tells are both heartbreaking and heart warming, revealing just how complex these relationships truly are. There is love between some of these women, of that there is no question. And yet there is also superiority and ownership and perhaps most importantly, there is tradition. This is what all these women know. Change is not easy; making change is even harder.

There is so much unrest in these situations but you would never know. The trick is to never let on, a perfect glow must shine on the surface at all times. Of course, it is all terribly ironic that these maids are the ones to polish these particular surfaces. That said, there is plenty of shine in THE HELP. Taylor’s lack of experience behind the camera shows when certain delicate moments feel a tad rushed, but that hardly matters when the entire cast is this delightful and endearing. While it is refreshing to see Stone play something other than sarcastic for a change, and naturally Davis anchors the picture with great weight, it is Bryce Dallas Howard as queen of the white ladies, Hilly Holbrook, and lesser know, Octavia Spencer, as the feistiest of maids, Minny, who truly give THE HELP the punch it requires to become as memorable and enjoyable as it is. Collectively, the entire cast, rounded out by touching performances from Sissy Spacek and Alison Janney, maintain an air of ease, which is even more so commendable considering how they all know somewhere in the back of their minds that everything they know is about to change forever. The best part is that you can also see that some of these women know this change is for the best.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Black Sheep interviews Dominic Cooper

"A Double Dose of Dominic"
An interview with THE DEVIL'S DOUBLE star,
Dominic Cooper

The name may not mean anything to you at first but I assure you, you have seen Dominic Cooper before. It isn't easy for an actor to make a name for themselves these days, not one that lasts longer than five minutes anyway. Cooper's career has been burning slowly for years now. He has stood out in smaller films, like THE HISTORY BOYS or THE DUCHESS, and he has tried to break out in bigger projects, like MAMMA MIA! and CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, but in every case, his contribution has always been supporting in nature. Turns out, all he had to do to take the lead was make a deal with the devil.

"I just had a burning desire to play it; I kept hounding people about it," Cooper tells me when we meet on the Toronto stop of his press tour. The "it" in this case is the lead role in Lee Tamahori's THE DEVIL'S DOUBLE, and it is no ordinary part at that. THE DEVIL'S DOUBLE, a Sundance breakout, tells the story of Latif Yahia, an Iraqi soldier who was forced to become the body double of Uday Hussein, the eldest son of Saddam Hussein. After undergoing cosmetic surgery to perfect his look, Uday owned Latif and would have Latif fill in for him in public whenever he didn't feel like it or thought there was a chance he might be killed. Cooper would play both of these roles.

"What on earth made me think I could play the son of an Iraqi dictator, I have no idea," Cooper exclaims, as if he is still surprised any of it actually came to pass. And while the 33-year-old, London native, might have been skeptical of his own possibilities at first, he needn't have been. Still, I can appreciate his apprehension. Not only was Cooper about to take on the head space of a notoriously evil human being, but he would have to jump back and forth between that horror and its complete polar opposite. The potential for madness was massive but Cooper didn't care one bit. "The rewards from it were just endless," he beams. "I loved every minute of it even though I was completely exhausted and going slightly schizophrenic."

The filmmakers decided that THE DEVIL'S DOUBLE would be based on Yahia's life but that they would not be pursuing a strict recreation of who Uday and Latif were as people. This would allow them the freedom to focus more on the story and allow Cooper to draw the performances from a more genuine place. It also meant that Cooper did not need to trouble the real life Latif, whom he met with before production in Malta began, with too many personal questions about what he endured. "His mental and physical scars are very present and not long healed," Cooper confides. "It's not that far in the past. I didn't want to start prodding and poking at things that are probably," Cooper trails off here but then refocuses, "things that I don't want to actually know about, quite frankly."

Cooper does not shy away from the torment and torture Latif and his family endured at Uday's hand in THE DEVIL'S DOUBLE. As Uday, he is in a constant state of mania. He is always throwing things at walls and having his way with women and shooting people for no apparent reason. He gets what he wants at all times like the spoiled child he has always been, no matter what the cost, even if that cost is someone else's life. Naturally, Cooper struggled with finding a point of connection between Uday and himself, any scrap that could help him find a place to grow this character from. "I didn't understand how anyone could carry out these atrocities without falling to pieces," he begins, and then reveals what he learned. "He just takes drugs and pills and drinks and that's how he sustains his life. He had to go that speed to not allow himself to think."

When pressed as to whether he enjoyed playing one more than the other, Cooper seems torn. "With Uday, there were no limits to playing him; I could do anything and I did." He ponders a moment. "But Latif was also very enjoyable because you have the stillness of him; things can process." Covering that range allowed Cooper to go somewhere on film he never has before. "For the first time ever, I've watched something I've done and gone, 'yeah, that kinda worked.'"

Cooper stops here for a moment. The pause allows me to absorb his ruggedly handsome face and his impressive sense of style. I can't tell if he is tired from the long day of interviews, of which this is his last, or if he is just done. Just then, he chimes in cheerily, as if a feeling has just come over him, "It's extremely rewarding because you know that you've removed yourself from you and you've actually created something. It was really great fun"

And with that, I'm happy to see the new leading man thing hasn't gone to his head.

Saturday, August 06, 2011


Written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
Directed by David Dobkin
Starring Jason Bateman, Ryan Reynolds, Leslie Mann and Olivia Wilde

Dave Lockwood (in the body of Mitch Planko): Oh my God; I'm a douchebag.

There are certain things you need to just plain accept as fact in order to enjoy THE CHANGE-UP. First of all, you have to accept that the notions of what it means to be a responsible adult in the film will be as cliched and contrived as they can possibly be. Past that, you need to accept that, as this is a comedy for dumb boys and from the minds of dumb boys, there will be plenty of T & A and no fart joke opportunity will be missed. Foremost though, you need to accept that two grown men can urinate into a random fountain, wish they had the other's life and then wake up with their wish come true. To be fair, you don't actually have to accept any of this but if you won't, you should definitely avoid this movie.

Director David Dobkin (WEDDING CRASHERS) introduces us to Dave Lockwood (Jason Bateman) and Mitch Planko (Ryan Reynolds) while they are still sleeping soundly in bed. Dave's blue pyjamas match his blue sheets, which in turn match the duvet and complimentary pillowcases. This is a man who is consumed by order. Mitch, on the other hand, would be lucky to find two socks that go together, let alone two pillowcases. They have been friends their whole lives and are only really friends now because of their history. Like any true family man, Dave works tireless hours at a law firm and rarely gets a chance to spend any time with his family. Mitch smokes pot all day and plays with his swords, both of the steel and metaphorical variety. Having switched lives though, Mitch must learn to see something through in his life while Dave has to learn to chill out. Naturally, they each go to extremes in their new lives before they learn that happiness lies somewhere in the middle. They say the grass is always greener, which is even more true when you piss all over it like these two dolts do.

With characters as vapid as this and a storyline as obvious and played out as body swapping, THE CHANGE-UP needs to have solid talent on screen to raise the material to a place where it is at the very least passable, let alone impressive. And while it never truly reaches great heights, Bateman and Reynolds work their hardest to get it there. Both men have sharp tongues and plenty of charisma to engage the viewer and it is at times a great delight to see them play against the type that each has fallen into in their careers. As great as their performances are though, there is only so much they can do for a film that finds spurting poop smeared all over someone's face within five minutes of its opening.

Monday, August 01, 2011


Written and Directed by Massy Tadjedin
Starring Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, Eva Mendes and Guillaume Canet

A lot can happen in one night. When it comes to couples, seemingly very little can happen but yet still have a momentous impact on the strength of the relationship. And when a married couple is apart for the night, in different cities no less, well the possibilities can open right up for potential disaster to take place. This of course doesn't apply to regular married couples who just go about their business every day and who are just happy to spend their time together at night. No, these couples can take solace that they are not of this particular dramatic variety and just stay in to watch LAST NIGHT instead.

First time feature filmmaker, Massy Tadjedin, understands the nuances between couples who have been together for some time and that the tiniest shift between them can sometimes not be undone. Her first film focuses on these moments, beginning with Joanna and Michael Reed (Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington) as they prepare for a night out. They move around each other like they can anticipate each other's next step, so it is no wonder that Joanna is able to pick up on some sexual tension between Michael and a very attractive co-worker (Eva Mendes), that night at the party. When Michael leaves on a business trip the next day with said attractive co-worker, Joanna accidentally runs into the man that got away (Guillaume Canet). As each Michael and Joanna struggle with their devotion to each other and their baser instincts, Tadjedin observes carefully and allows the sometimes deceitful and selfish sides of marraige to play freely.

LAST NIGHT comes off at times as a tad bit too experimental. The able and engaging cast all smoulder but all the brooding doesn't make for a very entertaining evening and Tadjedin does not allow for many breaks from the drama. Still, it is a stylish, smart work of film that is really only hindered by its intensity from time to time. One thing is for sure, LAST NIGHT will not easily be forgotten.

LAST NIGHT is now available to rent or own thanks to eOne Entertainment.