Monday, December 31, 2012


Written by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola
Directed by Wes Anderson
Starring Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis and Frances McDormand

Suzy: I think you’ve still got lightning in you.

I was wrong and not only do I not mind saying that but rather I feel compelled to do so in the case of MOONRISE KINGDOM. I was quite excited to see Wes Anderson’s latest film when it debuted early in the summer, shortly after making its premiere to great fanfare at the Cannes Film Festival. In hindsight, I can see now that my initial reaction to the film, which was not a positive one, as you may have already gathered, or read for that matter, was likely tainted by two contributing factors. The first is that I had a major headache going into the screening that morning. The second, and arguably the more influential factor, would be that the film itself was not the film I wanted it to be. When I saw MOONRISE KINGDOM a second time though, and allowed it to be the film it actually is instead of what I had originally hoped it would be, I realized that not only was it Anderson at his absolute best, but it was also easily one of the finest films of the year.

What I wanted MOONRISE KINGDOM to be was an Anderson-esque comedy, featuring the bizarre antics of its incredible adult cast, including Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton. What it truly is, is an exceptionally made, Anderson-esque masterpiece, about two troubled young people, Sam and Suzy (newcomers, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward), who see the potential for solace and acceptance in the other. Sam, a sensitive orphan, cannot seem to fit in in any family scenario he is placed; while Suzy cannot seem to find her place within her own biological family, Murray and McDormand playing her also troubled parents. They both feel unwanted and without a proper home because the adults that are supposed to be taking care of and guiding them, are too consumed by their own lives and egos. Sam and Suzy try as they might to make a home for themselves but quickly learn that, unlike the physical journey they are on, the road to a successful relationship does not come with a map and compass. Thus, Anderson’s opus rounds itself out as a poignant and charming reflection on generational influence.

After six films, Anderson is only getting stronger and more focused in his colorful and distinct approach to filmmaking. While his earlier successes, like RUSHMORE and THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS, clearly outline his creative style, they can also be a bit cold for some. Anderson finds a warmth he has been building toward of late in MOONRISE KINGDOM. His past characters, with all their specific quirks, can fall prey to their own caricatured nature and get lost within their deliberate construction. Sam and Suzy are innocents though and their discomfort with the world around them, with each other and with their own selves, can palpably be felt on the screen. They are just as particular as any Anderson creation, if not more so at times, but their wonder about the world unfolding in front of them, gives them enough heart to not only make them some of the most real of any Anderson creation I’ve ever seen, but they also firmly ground Anderson’s lofty ambitions, a feat he lets get away from him from time to time. Simply put, if you are open to its charms, MOONRISE KINGDOM will wile you with delight and you will bear witness to Anderson’s crowning achievement. Also, its probably best not to watch it with a headache.

Click here to read my original MOONRISE KINGDOM review. You can also read previous Anderson reviews for THE DARJEELING LIMITED and FANTASTIC MR. FOX.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Best of Black Sheep: LOOPER

Written and Directed by Rian Johnson
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels and Bruce Willis

Abe: It’s the little ones that get you.

In 2005, a little movie called BRICK boldly announced the arrival of writer/director, Rian Johnson, as a crisp, witty new voice in cinema. It also solidified its star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as the it indie boy of the day. Seven years later, the twosome have finally reunited and their new collaboration, LOOPER, showcases their maturity and growth, demonstrating just how far each of them have truly come.

As they are quick to explain in the narrative, time travel does not exist in 2044, the year in which LOOPER takes place. It does however exist 30 years past that point. Apparently, it is near impossible to get away with murder in the last quarter of this century, so the mob sends people back in time to be shot and disposed of the moment they arrive by what are known as loopers. Gordon-Levitt plays one of these loopers and a successful one at that. Successful that is, until the day his future self is sent back to be killed but runs away before his present day version can do the job. For those of you not already in the loop, this is called closing your loop.

LOOPER relies heavily on this intricately woven timeline, which is only further complicated when you consider why the older version of himself (played by Bruce Willis) runs in the first place. Johnson easily handles the twists and turns he himself crafted in his near airtight screenplay and Gordon-Levitt is leading his charge. LOOPER is an exciting and ambitious project that Johnson pulls off effortlessly and with the style of master in the making.

Friday, December 28, 2012


Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Starring Christoph Waltz, Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kerry Washington

Dr. King Schultz (referring to the bounty hunter profession): Like slavery, it's a flesh for cash trade.

DJANGO UNCHAINED? More like Tarantino unchained, if you ask me. When watching a Quentin Tarantino movie, there is always a danger that his undeniable genius will fall prey to his also undeniable ego. He often walks the fine line between these two elements with surprising grace and subsequently makes insightful works that are distinctly his style. In DJANGO UNCHAINED though, Tarantino's attempt at a Western / Blaxploitation hybrid, he veers too far off course and ends up losing his edge in the sprawling drawl of the Old West.

DJANGO UNCHAINED is a bounty hunter, buddy western for about an hour and then a hyper violent,  romantic quest for about two hours after that. The two parts did not come together for me but either way, I never felt that Tarantino was ever truly able to make himself fit into these genres. There are moments where his unique style feels perfectly suited to the subject, but it often times felt more forced than anything else. Christophe Waltz, who embodied Tarantino's spirit so perfectly in his Oscar-winning turn in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, is completely miscast here. As a German dentist turned bounty hunter in 1858 Texas, he is more device than character, allowing Tarantino to incorporate his particular brand of dialogue to the period, justified by Waltz being foreign. You may delight in some of the things he has to say but I found it just exposed Tarantino's unease with the period.

Waltz acquires a slave by the name of Django (Jamie Foxx) at the onset of the film. He is sympathetic to the plight of the American slave but that doesn't stop him from purchasing Django for his own gain. When he sees how cruelly Django is treated by the people they encounter, he sets him "free" and the twosome become the biggest, badass bounty hunters around. There is a sense of shock in just how appalling people are towards their black slaves and Tarantino is here to rescue them. In this sense, DJANGO is no more than an extension of what he was going for in BASTERDS. Only instead of the Jews rising up against the Nazis, now Tarantino rewrites the history of the black slaves, giving them a hero to rise up against their oppressors.

Along the way, Waltz and Foxx come across Leonardo DiCaprio, a plantation owner reputed for fighting his slaves to their deaths. This man owns Django's wife (Kerry Washington). And when it comes time for Django to take back what is his (which is a whole other form of slavery, but no matter), everything ends in a seemingly never-ending blood bath, that plays out more like a video game, where the goal is to kill as many white supremacists as possible. It isn't triumphant though, just incessant and relentless. You can almost feel Tarantino's smug sense of satisfaction in the end but it's misguided. You cannot rewrite the wrongs of history by just shooting the crap out of them and thinking yourself a hero for having done so.


Written by Jose Rivera
Directed by Walter Salles
Starring Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund and Kristen Stewart

Dean Moriarty: Marylou, spread those knees and let’s smoke some weed.

Jack Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD is considered to be the defining novel of what is known as the “beat” generation. These were post-WWII young people who identified themselves through poetry, jazz, drugs and sexual exploration. These identities took time to establish and that meant there was never really any time for work or responsibility. In many regards, they remind of today’s hipsters. As I don’t care for them, you can imagine how I feel about their forefathers.

I’ve not read the Kerouac novel and I’m certain from seeing the film that it is incredibly detailed and likely highly insightful but that doesn't mean it translates well. On screen, ON THE ROAD, amounts to a fairly aimless road trip with nothing but unlikable characters to spend the time with. Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) is disenchanted with life when we meet him in 1947 in New York City. He wants to be a writer but he cannot commit to a single word, at least in type. Enter Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund). Dean is the epitome of cool and everyone follows him around, like the lost little puppies they are. The trouble is that Dean is more lost than any of them.

Dean and Sal fight against growing up and taking responsibility for their lives and choices. Along their trip, they meet many folks who reinforce this lesson with varying degrees of subtlety. Putting life on hold to figure out who you are and to enjoy what life offers certainly has its merits but to watch this experience on film, no matter how well Brazilian director, Walter Salles, paints the picture, is just self-indulgent really.


Written by Billy McMillan and Amy Berg
Directed by Amy Berg

Despite the abundance of information available on the subject of the West Memphis Three, I had not heard anything of them myself until last year, when a third documentary in an HBO series on the subject (PARADISE LOST 3: PURGATORY) began getting notice on the festival circuit. That film went on to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature but if any one film is going to shed some light on the West Memphis Three, it will be the all new, Peter Jackson produced documentary, WEST OF MEMPHIS. Clocking in at nearly two and a half hours, it may seem at first like too much to take, but it is fascinating and devastating from start to finish.

In 1993, three young boys under the age of 10, were killed in West Memphis, Arkansas. Three older boys, none older than 18, were accused of the crime, and of being Satanists, and subsequently convicted. The oldest of the three boys, Damien Echols, was sentenced to death. At the time, the parents of the victims were satisfied with the results of the trial and the case was closed. Closing the case though made the evidence gathered public knowledge and it started to become obvious to many followers of the case that there was just no way these three teenagers could have murdered those three young boys. Some evidence was ignored while other evidence was seemingly planted and meanwhile, three young men would go on to spend 20 years of their lives in prison, while the real killer continued to live free.

With Echols’s life at actual risk, the case garnered the attention of celebrities across the nation and, as it turns out in the case of Jackson and his wife, Fran Walsh, across the planet. Jackson and Walsh were serious financial contributors to the West Memphis Three appeal initiative and are both producers on WEST OF MEMPHIS. Their clout brings attention to the film, which is what is most important now, so that these boys can have their story told. As their story unfolds, with new evidence rejected by former judges concerned about admitting liability, and almost undeniable alternatives to the crime surfacing, it is constantly shocking to see how difficult their struggle to freedom has been. And Oscar-nominated director, Amy Berg, captures that journey, however tortured and painful it is, perfectly with this film.

Friday, December 21, 2012


Written by William Nicholson
Directed by Tom Hooper
Starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway and Eddie Redmayne

Cast: and remember, the truth at once was spoken, to love another person is to see the face of god. 

I would think it would go without saying that a musical that announces itself as an ode to misery in its title, would be a fairly dramatic and depressing affair but apparently this isn't so.  Some of what I'm hearing of Tom Hoopers extravagant restaging of the classic musical, LES MISERABLES, is that it is a relentless, melodramatic onslaught of singing out pain in your face for nearly three hours. Yes, it is most certainly all of this but it was designed to be precisely that. Whether they're forever running from the law or selling their body to feed their child or watching all of their friends die in the French Revolution, these people have every right to be as anguished as they are. And what better way to deal with this pain than sing about it?

LES MISERABLES has a massive following. It has been staged thousands of times and has played to audiences around the world for over thirty years. And yet, this is the first time it has been attempted on film, as a musical anyway. To say that anticipation for the film has been high would also a be a great understatement. Now that it is finally here though, will purists be happy? I suspect not actually. Hooper decided to have his incredibly diverse and talented cast, from Hugh Jackman to Anne Hathaway to newcomer, Samantha Bark, sing this intensely difficult show live on set rather than record first in studio and then lip synch on set. While the effect itself is most often very intimate and emotionally engaging, some of the musical prowess is lost amidst the emoting. While Hathaway's performance of "I Dreamed a Dream" is deeply moving, I am sure some will wish there was more clarity to her belt and less cracking in her voice from crying. All the same, the film does feel more spontaneous than most film musicals so while the decision will polarize some, it is still brave and commendable.

Many an eye is on Hooper here as LES MISERABLES is the follow-up to his Oscar-winning work on THE KING'S SPEECH. While that story was a grand one, it was still told on a much smaller scale. LES MISERABLES may have been a tad bit much for him to handle. Set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, this is the story of one man's struggle to forge out a life in times of strife and suffering. Jean Valjean (Jackman) once stole a loaf of bread and he has been paying for it ever since. While pretending to be someone he is not, he takes in Cosette, a young girl (played as an adult by Amanda Seyfreid) when her mother (Hathaway, who shines like you would not believe) passes away. When Cosette falls in love with a revolutionary (a dapper and delightful, Eddie Redmayne), Valjean does everything in his power to ensure they are together. While Hooper has a strong handle on his characters, his French Revolution feels slight at times, hardly like the source of all their misery. 

What I love about LES MISERABLES is the inherent sense of hope in the music itself. The poor sing of how the end of the day brings nothing but another day to a close at first and later, albeit still suffering greatly, sing of how they long for one day more. And what with all the political unrest and death and disease in the streets, to speak of things like love seems entirely frivolous at first but eventually love is the only thing that makes any sense. For it is true what they say, to truly know happiness, you must experience LES MISERABLES first.


Written and Directed by Andrew Adamson
Starring Erica Luniz, Igor Zapirov and the Cirque du Soleil

Make no mistake, I am a big fan on the Cirque du Soleil. Their theatricality and daring acrobatics are almost always amazing and inspiring. That being said, the first ten minutes of their second big screen outing are some of the worst moment I have seen on film in quite some time. Writer / Director, Andrew Adamson, the director of SHREK and THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, treats us to a mystical world in dazzling 3D but first he drags us through an embarrassing set up to justify the completely unbelievable premise. Get through it though and WORLDS AWAY will take you far away from the world you know.

Mia (Erica Linz) wanders into a small circus one night for no apparent reason. There she is judged by strangers and given nasty looks by circus hands, again for no apparent reason. She is about to leave but someone convinces her that she must see The Aerialist (Igor Zaripov), through non-verbal coaxing of course. Se stays and while The Aerialist is performing high above the circus floor, their eyes meet. This is also the moment he loses his grip and plummets from the air. When he hits the floor, the sand beneath him swallows him whole and Mia falls in after him. They have both entered the world of Cirque du Soleil, a world far, far away from our own that consists of many circus tents. She must find him but there is no reason she can't take in a few shows first!

Not unlike an actual Cirque show, this driving action takes place on the sidelines and makes way for the performers to wow and amaze. This, they do in a barrage of numbers from the seven Cirque shows that ran in Las Vegas in 2011, from "O" and "Zoomanity" to their Beatles collaboration, "Love". Most of the numbers are breathtaking and exhilarating, and the 3D makes it almost as spectacular as being there. Still, Adamson never takes us so far away from our own world to forget that all WORLDS AWAY really is, is an affordable way for those of us not fortunate enough to make it out to Vegas to see some of these awesome feats for ourselves.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Written and Directed by Judd Apatow
Starring Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann and Albert Brooks

Debbie: F@#k 40. 40 can suck my d#@k.

Birthdays can be messy but they can still be fun. The same can be said of comedy guru, Judd Apatow’s latest, THIS IS 40. Apatow’s fourth film is being billed as the “sort-of sequel” to KNOCKED UP, because it catches up with two of the supporting characters from that film, Pete and Debbie (Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann), rather than the main protagonists (played by Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl, neither of whom makes an appearance here.) At the time, Pete and Debbie were characters designed to show two expecting parents just how chaotic but bizarrely satisfying raising children and settling down can be. Fast forward a few years and these two are about ready to crack. And as Apatow ages, he too shows a few signs of cracking.

Pete and Debbie are both turning 40 within the same week. Her birthday is at the beginning of the week and is celebrated in quiet fashion with her immediate family, Pete and their two daughters, Sadie and Charlotte (played adorably by Apatow and Mann’s actual children, Maude and Iris Apatow). His birthday is to be feted in grand style at the end of the week with a multitude of party guests. The week that takes place in between these two events is one of the longest and most inconsistent trajectories I can imagine. What this couple has to go through in this week is a roller coaster of emotions and events that would surely send most people straight to divorce court. Pete and Debbie have a secret weapon though; every step they take is done so with hilarity and charm, and they are surrounded by an incredible supporting cast, including Albert Brooks, John Lithgow and Megan Fox.

Structural issues, and incessant Apple product placement aside, Apatow knows how to inject warmth and reality into comedy. This could be a direct influence of his borrowing from his own life to write THIS IS 40. While his strong understanding of human interaction and character infuses this work, making it feel like a more mature effort than previously produced films, his sympathy for his characters blinds him from creating a more cohesive final product. The moments are genuine and effective but just don’t connect at times. It is jarring to see this talented twosome fighting one moment, then having an amazing night together and then start fighting again the next day as if nothing ever happened. I get that this is how life works sometimes but this isn’t real life after all, and sometimes, Apatow loses sight of that ever so slightly.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


Written by Mark Boal
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Starring Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke and Kyle Chandler

Dan: This is what defeat looks like. Your jihad is over.

Remember how it took a moment to process the reality of the announcement that Osama bin Laden, leader of the al Qaeda terrorist organization, had been killed by the Americans? I do. It was late at night and it didn’t seem real. The Americans had made it their personal mission to hunt down and kill the man behind the horrifying September 11th terrorist attacks, but that was nearly ten years prior. It seemed to me, to most perhaps, that their efforts would ultimately prove fruitless, to the point where I had almost forgotten they were still looking for him. Find bin Laden they did though and now, thanks to Academy Award winning director, Kathryn Bigelow (THE HURT LOCKER), you can see exactly how it happened and precisely why it took so darn long.

ZERO DARK THIRTY, a reference to the approximate hour bin Laden was killed, is an intense account of the ten years it took to fulfill the promise President George W. Bush made to his people after they were attacked. Bigelow does not shy away from the dirtier details of the mission, exposing us to a great deal of torture from the very onset. The manner in which America dealt with its enemies changed a great deal after 9/11, and again since then, when it was exposed to the world how horrible they were being to their detainees. Bigelow hardly glorifies their methods but she also is sure to show that if it weren’t for some of these tactics, they might not have been able to prevent some potentially disastrous terrorist plots. To watch the ever changing face of how the Central Intelligence Agency worked to protect the American people, only further highlights just how long it took to execute its vendetta. To watch that mission presented as an obsession sheds some much needed light on how it may have also distracted from thwarting some other successful terrorist attacks.

Bigelow reteams with THE HURT LOCKER screenwriter, Mark Boal, for ZERO DARK THIRTY, and while the twosome certainly work well together and know how to craft tense, taut thrillers, their latest collaboration lacks some of the deeper insight their previous success had. Watching THE HURT LOCKER, I felt a grander sense of purpose in the unfolding action, while ZERO DARK THIRTY felt more like a straight forward manhunt thriller than anything else. Sure, it is led by the luminous, Jessica Chastain, in yet another remarkable performance, but even her profound subtlety doesn’t bring us anywhere underneath the surface of this hunt. That being said, the surface itself, which clocks in at a near two and a half hour runtime, is stellar, fully engaging from start to finish. Perhaps if I was American though, accomplishing the mission would have felt more personally satisfying.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


Written by Sergio G. Sanchez
Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona
Starring Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts and Tom Holland

On December 26, 2004, a series of horrifically destructive tsunamis struck many land masses touched by the Indian Ocean. Over 230,000 people were estimated to have died and nearly 1.7 million people were displaced during the events. THE IMPOSSIBLE, the first film from director, Juan Antonio Bayona, since his breakout, THE ORPHANAGE, and incidentally also his first in English, tells just one of those stories and, in doing so, provides one of the most emotional experiences I’ve had at the movies in quite some time.

Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts play Henry and Maria, father and mother to three young boys, all under the age of 12, on vacation in Thailand for the Christmas holiday. Dad is in the pool with the two youngest when the torrential tide starts to come in, while Mom is a few feet away with a book, and their eldest, a few feet further away getting a ball. Up until this point, Bayona has allowed us to spend a few moments with the family, to get to know them, even if just a little, so there is actually some connection to them that binds them to us when they are fighting for their lives. Then, he simply lets the natural horror unfold and before long we are immersed in devastation and desperation, and led towards salvation by two strong performances by McGregor and Watts.

THE IMPOSSIBLE is quite an apt title for this film. Not only is the experience this family endures an impossible one to survive, but making this film is in itself an incredible feat that should not have been possible either. With the Indonesian Tsunami not quite 8 year behind us now, this disaster movie could have literally been a disaster if it got anywhere near exploiting the events for the sole purpose of titillating the audience and manipulating our emotions. Bayona flirts with this fine line on occasion but for the most part, he creates an honest space that just allows this powerful story to be told and resonate with the sheer nature of its authenticity.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Written by Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin
Directed by Benh Zeitlin
Starring Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry and Gina Montana

Hushpuppy: The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one piece breaks, even a little bit, the entire universe will get busted.

Sundance sensation, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, lives up to its name in every single one of its frames. Benh Zietlin’s first feature opens with an introduction to a world not unlike our own, but somehow simultaneously, still an entirely different one. This world looks forgotten, abandoned. Discarded keepsakes litter the empty lawns between broken down campers propped up to avoid flooding, while scattered farm animals scurry about their business. The Earth has been divided into two parts - the dry side and the wet side. No, this is not the world we know, but by the time the defenseless inhabitants make their way to their roofs to escape the torrential floods, it is certainly a world we came very close to knowing all too well not too long ago.

Zeitlin has crafted a brave picture that is exhilarating to watch, with moments of genuinely moving inspiration and other moments that are completely debilitating. Stemming from a one-act play, which was written by the co-writer of this screenplay, Lucy Alibar, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD explores this unfathomable world through the eyes of the most adorable, endearing and engrossing six-year old imaginable. Hushpuppy (played with the utmost poise and ferocity by the now 9-year old, Quvenzhané Wallis) through no choice of her own, stayed behind in an area known to the locals as “The Bathtub”, when most of the people left it behind for the dry side. You don’t get a choice when you’re 6 years old and your daddy doesn’t want to leave the land he’s known his whole life, even if it means eventually being swallowed up by the sea. Her vision of this world is intoxicating, even when things get dire and she starts to believe that she herself broke the world. “If you can fix the broken piece, everything can go back,” she boldly states at one point, when she thinks she has everything all figured out. She may have the mind of a child but she has one beast of a soul.

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD is without question the best film I’ve seen all year. It is a singularly unique experience that you will not want to end. As bright as Wallis shines in this film - and I assure you, you will be blown away by this little girl - Zeitlin’s direction elevates the picture to instant American classic status. The ideas are fresh and stay with you long after its over; the visual style and technique are superb and quite crafty given the restricted budget; and the statements Zeitlin makes about the environment and America’s handling of Hurricane Katrina are tasteful yet potent. Life in “The Bathtub” levels the playing field for everyone there and reminds us that we are all in fact beasts. Watching young, little Hushpuppy discover that she may be one of the lucky few who knows not only how to let that beast out, but also how to tame it, is an  unforgettable film experience that should not be missed.

Monday, December 10, 2012


Written and Directed by Michael Haneke
Starring Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva and Isabelle Hupert

To call your movie, AMOUR (LOVE), is a pretty bold statement, without question. Michael Haneke not only goes there with his latest film but the film actually lives up to its lofty title. While watching it, I was not only struck by how insightful the script was, how perfect the pacing was or how brilliant the performances were. No, more importantly, the biggest impact felt after watching this for me was the realization that we as a modern society are getting love all wrong. It is precious and rare and far more simpler than the way we see it now. My hope is that the film inspires all who see it to abandon the games they play with love and just find someone to grow old with already.

We meet Georges and Anne (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva), a couple in their 80’s, on their way home from a concert. From the way they sit together on the bus, it is clear that they have been together for all their lives and that their love is still strong. You can feel a strong sense of respect and understanding between them as they contemplate the evening’s activities before turning into bed. This unspoken understanding between them is a testament to how brilliant their performances and chemistry are. The next morning at breakfast though, Anne suffers a stroke before Georges’s eyes. It is truly disturbing to see her present one moment and then see every sign of life leave her face the next. When she comes back, she is no longer herself, paralyzed on one side of her body. Their long standing relationship must now enter a new phase at a time when they both felt they could just relax with each other for the rest of their lives.

The threat of losing love is the best way to highlight its great importance. Haneke communicates this with subtlety and just as much respect for his audience as Georges and Anne have for each other. AMOUR, at least the movie that is, can be heartbreaking at times but its tranquil nature ensures it is never fully devastating. Their love is endearing, unfailing and incredibly moving. But what is the pinnacle of this love? Love keeps them together but it also keeps her holding on to a world she no longer recognizes or wants to be a part of as her condition deteriorates. Perhaps love can only be honoured at times by letting it go. Only those who have been blessed enough to know love would know the answer to that though.

Best of Black Sheep: TED

Written by Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild
Directed by Seth MacFarlane
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis and Seth MacFarlane

Ted: (Dressed in a suit) I look stupid.
John: No, you don’t. You look dapper.
Ted: John, I look like something you give to your kid when you tell ‘em Grandma died.

The opening sequence to TED, Seth MacFarlane’s (FAMILY GUY) first live-action feature film, tells you everything you need to know about whether you’re going to enjoy yourself or not. In it, a narrator (voiced by AMERICAN DAD regular, Patrick Stewart) tells us the story of how, one Christmas, a little boy’s wish brought a stuffed bear to life. The twosome will go on to become the bestest of friends until inevitably one day when a woman will come between them and threaten their very special relationship. It isn’t long before jokes are made about Jewish people and obscure pop culture references or even before the narrator himself takes a decidedly dirty direction with his tone. This is the story of a boy who doesn’t want to grow up, as told by a man who has made a fortune playing directly to boys who don’t want to grow up, the world over. Sometimes, I question whether MacFarlane has ever fully grown up himself. The question he poses to us is whether that’s actually a bad thing or not.

I think it would be fair to say that if you enjoy MacFarlane’s humour on his animated Fox shows (including THE CLEVELAND SHOW, in addition to the previously mentioned examples), then you will most likely laugh it up throughout TED. I actually do like MacFarlane’s humour quite a bit and I did a fair amount of hearty chuckling throughout his film debut, but not enough to see through all of his laziness. As much as I enjoy FAMILY GUY (and I do often enjoy it over and over again), I have found that he has learned to coast a bit on what he knows works well already. In TED, MacFarlane plays it safe, bringing on a number of people he’s already familiar with, from co-star, Mila Kunis, to composer, Walter Murphy. Heck, there’s even one foreigner character who knows the English language well enough to get by but misses all the nuances. (If you watch FAMILY GUY, you’ll know what that refers to). It almost felt to me at times that not only was MacFarlane playing it safe but rather surrounding himself with the familiar so he too would feel safe in this unchartered territory.

I would be remiss not to mention as well how similar Ted the bear sounds like  MacFarlane’s quintessential character, Peter Griffin. They are so similar at times that MacFarlane even calls himself out on it in one scene when Ted quips about how he does not sound exactly like Peter Griffin. Just because MacFarlane is in on the joke though does not make us forget that TED is, on many levels, just FAMILY GUY crammed into a cuddly bear. And while this does entertain on many levels, it only does so to a point. What it does past that is expose without question MacFarlane’s limitations as a writer and director.

PS. I really do like you, Mr. MacFarlane. I guess, I just want to see what else you can do, where else you can go.

Saturday, December 08, 2012


Written by Richard Nelson
Directed by Roger Michell
Starring Bill Murray, Laura Linney and Olivia Williams

Franklin D. Roosevelt: Why can’t politicians just be honest?

When HYDE PARK ON HUDSON opens, it would appear as though director, Roger Michell is determined to make a stately biopic of the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt. He has all the right components in place, from the romantic score, to the poetically paced narration, to casting pedigreed actors for the plum parts. And just when you think you know exactly what Michell has in store for you, he has Roosevelt drive off into a secluded field so his sixth cousin can give him a hand job, good and proper. How’s that for presidential?

Rather than tell a straight forward biography of Roosevelt, screenwriter, Richard Nelson, opts to focus on some of the time the President spent at his mother’s home in Hyde-Park-on-Hudson, New York, with particular focus on the weekend that King George VI and his Queen, came to visit America with their hands out. If you don’t know the history, the details are revealed subtly and with patience, from Roosevelt’s drinking habits, to his extensive philandering, to his wife’s proclivity for the same sex. The royal visit brings all of these eccentricities (or social atrocities, if you’re royal) into the light, which makes for some great laughs. At some points though, it isn’t clear whether Michell is just having fun or rather having fun at the President’s expense.

A biopic of this nature is first and foremost about the man embodying the subject. In this case, this is Bill Murray, and Mr. Murray most certainly holds his own. He may not always have a lot to work with but he handles the complexities of the character so well, that he blends seamlessly into the part, as if he were sitting in Roosevelt’s own skin. HYDE PARK ON HUDSON may not go too far past the surface but, thanks to Murray, its  surface has a smooth finish.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Best of Black Sheep: FINDING NEMO 3D

Written by Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson and David Reynolds
Directed by Andrew Stanton
Voices by Albert Brookes, Ellen Degeneres and Alexander Gould

Dory: Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him because then nothing would ever happen to him.

There is something about being submerged in the ocean that is inherently magical. The scenery is brilliantly colorful and altogether breathtaking; the tone itself set by the constant rocking back and forth of the currents. Save for the occasional shark attack, every moment literally just goes with the flow, without any real idea where you’ll end up. It is an incredibly intricate yet subtly delicate balance that only a greater power could have created. Well, a greater power and the great creativity of Pixar anyway.

FINDING NEMO is both an underwater adventure and a contemplation at the same time. Marlin (Albert Brookes) is an overprotective father, not to mention also a clown fish, to little Nemo (Alexander Gould). It’s just been the two of them since Nemo was born and Marlin’s fear of life is starting to infringe on Nemo’s development. Fortunately for Nemo, his dad’s fear is eclipsed only by his love for his son, because when Nemo is taken by divers one day, his dad stops at nothing to get him back.

Andrew Stanton’s direction is so unexpected and alive. With every turn Marlin’s pursuit takes, Stanton takes us somewhere we never would have dreamed. Whether that’s fending off sharks who are trying to swear off eating other fish or surfing a current on the back of a 150-year-old sea turtle that speaks like a beach bum (incidentally voiced by Stanton himself), FINDING NEMO keeps the viewer in a constant state of awe and amazement. And when Marlin is joined by a blue tang with short term memory issues named Dory (Ellen Degeneres), the fun only gets funnier from there.

FINDING NEMO, now in the kind of sprawling 3D one wants to get lost in, is a perfect film for both parents and kids. This father and son tale gives kids the chance to see everything parents do for them while they are inspired to face their own fears. Meanwhile, parents learn that they don’t get to choose when their little ones are ready to leave the reef, that all you can do is make sure they know how to swim as best they can for when that day comes. Perhaps most importantly though, anyone who sees is learns that all any of us can ever do is just keep swimming, just keep swimming.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Best of Black Sheep: THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

Written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Caine

Bruce Wayne: You’re afraid that if I go back out there, I’ll fail.
Alfred: No, I’m afraid you want to.

It is a rare occurrence in Hollywood for any film franchise to be as consistently incredible throughout its run as Christopher Nolan’s Batman series has been. With THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, Nolan brings his ambitious take on the Batman ideology to an epic and fitting close. He brings his slow burning exploration of human fear to the brink of catastrophe and drags Gotham City and all its good people right along with it. The tension he has been building systematically since BATMAN BEGINS, that he brought to entirely unexpected heights in THE DARK KNIGHT, could only conclude in one way and that is with an all-out war. The question is, will anyone come out of this war a winner? Or even alive for that matter?

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES picks up eight years after the last installment left off, when Batman took the fall for Harvey Dent, so that Gotham could go on believing in the hero it needed at the time to move forward. Batman is retired and the man behind the mask, billionaire extraordinaire, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a recluse from society. Wayne has always been a conflicted character but the necessary and inevitable journey he must make here to find the bat within and come out of retirement, makes for a bit of a stunted start to the film. We know he will get there so watching him walk away from his waking coma slows us down some, but once he gets there, that’s when things get interesting. Very interesting.

Batman must take on Bane (Tom Hardy) and he has no idea what kind of brute force he’s up against. His motivation to dust off the cape and mask come into question, primarily from his trusted aid, Alfred (Michael Caine, who impresses yet again by finding all new layers to this well known character). Is he doing this because Gotham truly needs him? Or is he doing this because he needs Batman to live? Worse yet, is he doing this because he needs Batman in order to justify killing himself? Regardless, he gets more than he ever expected with Bane, a man with a past that is even more complex than his own. To complicate matters even further, Batman must also contend with feisty cat burglar, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway). He can never quite tell whose side she’s on and thanks to Hathaway’s playful performance, neither can we.

It isn’t just Batman who must rise to the occasion in this film. Nearly every character we meet must overcome their own limitations and rise to honour their past, their legacy or themselves. Like THE DARK KNIGHT before it, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES builds on ideas of fear, from struggling with it internally to inspiring it in others externally. Unlike last time though, this conflict is more visually destructive than it is psychologically disturbing. As a result, some of the motivation behind the terror felt like more of the same than another truly original installment. That said, the war itself is worth every second. So while THE DARK KNIGHT RISES may not have risen as high as I would have liked it to, it does soar through the sky like only Nolan’s great winged bat can.