Friday, March 30, 2012


Written by Melissa Wallack and Jason Keller
Directed by Tarsem Singh
Starring Julia Roberts, Lily Collins and Armie Hammer

The Queen: Snow must do what snow does best - fall.

The story of “Snow White” is one of the most beloved of all time. The Brothers Grimm fairy tale, in which a beautiful, young princess becomes the focus of envy of an evil Queen, and is cast out of her kingdom, has not only endured for centuries, but has also heavily influenced the princess archetype we have come to adopt, for better or for worse. It is an imaginative story that includes mining dwarfs, magic mirrors and a kiss so powerful it can break any spell. It is exemplary of what is considered classic and  Snow’s story is now ready to reach a new generation in MIRROR, MIRROR, a modern mess, I mean, interpretation, that seems determined to ensure future generations want nothing to do with this timeless tale.

Under the supposedly unique directorial vision of Tarsem Singh (IMMORTALS), MIRROR, MIRROR is a grand and elaborate affair. A castle sits upon a mountain ledge and is filled with thrones made of giant shells, unicorn shaped moldings and people as chess pieces, with majestic ships upon their heads instead of hats. The costume work is incredible (executed by the late Singh regular, Eiko Ishioka) and, like of all Singh’s work, the overall visual picture is certainly striking. Unfortunately, the visual style is not the only thing MIRROR, MIRROR shares in common with Singh’s past work. Singh has become, like Tim Burton, a go to director for outlandish visuals and, while his pictures are mostly dazzling, if not derivative of each other, he rarely spends any time on story and character development. It doesn’t matter how pretty the whole thing is when what’s happening isn’t at all compelling. Also, I don’t consider dwarfs on stilts to be original, just ridiculous

MIRROR, MIRROR spends more time with the woman looking into the mirror, instead of the woman the mirror speaks of. With Julia Roberts playing The Queen, it isn’t at all surprising that the story revolves more around her antics than that of the original title character, played by fresh face, Lily Collins. Roberts certainly does seem to be enjoying herself a great deal, and despite her faux British accent dropping in and out at all times, it can be fairly entertaining to watch her be bad for a change. That said, I’m not sure Roberts playing a demanding Queen is that much of a stretch for her. Still, the cast itself make MIRROR, MIRROR a passable experience, one that will likely appeal more to children than their adult accompaniment. Passable is a far cry from timeless though.

PS. Parents, just do me one favour, please; if you do bring your kids to see this, please make sure they see Walt Disney’s SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS at some point. They should know what the story is actually supposed to be like.

For more on MIRROR, MIRROR, check out my Hour Community piece about the production itself.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Best of Black Sheep: Black Sheep interviews David Cronenberg

An interview with A DANGEROUS METHOD director, David Cronenberg

On paper, it would make perfect sense to any outsider that famed Canadian director, David Cronenberg, would be the only appropriate choice to direct A DANGEROUS METHOD, an exploration of the complex relationship between the great grandfathers of psychoanalysis, Carl Jung and Sigmond Freud. Melding the cerebral and the hyper-sexual in this heightened a fashion might seem like old hat for the director of DEAD RINGERS and A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, but suggest this to the man himself, and you might be surprised to hear what he has to say.

“I have to tell you I don’t think in terms of theme at all,” Cronenberg tells me over the phone, right before my chest gets tight at the prospect of insulting one of this country’s most acclaimed talents. “Anyone telling this story would be dealing with those same things. When I’m making a movie, for me, creatively, it’s as if I’ve never made another movie.” Cronenberg is also quick to explain to me he isn’t trying to be evasive in his response. With that, my tension is relieved and we move on happily.

“In retrospect, I could say I always wanted to do something about Freud,” Cronenberg, 68, says, upon further reflection. “To say that isn’t really to say anything at all though because Freud is such a big topic.” And so, he just needed the right project to come along and he found that project in Christopher Hampton’s (DANGEROUS LIAISONS) stage play, "The Talking Cure". Cronenberg had heard his Spider star, Ralph Fiennes, was playing Jung on the London stage and, while he couldn’t attend, he did read the play and found the angle he had been looking for all this time.

“I thought it was very doable as a movie and it would be fascinating to approach it just the way Christopher had, which is to say very neutrally,” Cronenberg explains. Hampton’s play does not pick sides between Jung and Freud, played on film by Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen, respectively, but rather allows the audience to take in their differing points of view and assess on their own where their allegiances lie. The play pits the two against each other by framing their relationship in context with another, that of a shared patient and one of the first female psychoanalysts, Sabina Spielrein, played with great fervor and bravery by Keira Knightley.

Fleshing out the stage version for the screen was easier than one would expect. “As they were both psychoanalysts, no detail went unnoticed. They were their own first subjects after all,” Cronenberg quips. So there was a plethora of information to draw to fill out the story but there was still some things that required a certain creative flair, namely most of the intense sexuality that happens behind closed doors. “There are some very intimate moments which are speculative, of course. There was still some modesty involved in these relationships because of the era.”

As impassioned as it gets onscreen, Cronenberg insists that the set itself, located in Vienna and in various German locations, could not have been more ideal. “It was as though, after one or two days, as if you’d worked with everybody many times before,” he recalls fondly. Of course, Cronenberg has actually worked with Mortensen before, most recently in 2007’s EASTERN PROMISES. While Christoph Waltz was originally due to play Freud, he had to drop out because of scheduling conflicts, and Mortensen stepped in. “With Viggo, I would say I have a long hand rather than a short hand,” Cronenberg describes of their working relationship. “We would exchange something like 25 e-mails about what kind of cigars Freud smoked and when.”

Cronenberg is currently in post-production on his 20th feature, COSMOPOLIS, based on the Don DeLillo novel and starring Robert Pattinson. First up though, he must contend with awards season, as A DANGEROUS METHOD is naturally garnering attention. Though happy with the acclaim, Cronenberg takes the arduous process in stride. “Awards season isn’t a real season; it’s not like fall or winter,” says the man whose first brush with Oscar came when his 1986 film, THE FLY, took home the statue for Best Visual Effects. “It can be very exhausting if you’re nominated so at a certain moment, part of you is almost praying you don’t get any nominations.”

Editor's note: Mr. Cronenberg got his wish. A DANGEROUS METHOD wasn't nominated for a single Oscar.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Written by Suzanne Collins and Gary Ross
Directed by Gary Ross
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth

President Snow: Hope is the only thing stronger than fear.

Having just finished reading the incredibly addictive Suzanne Collins novel, and having fallen completely in love with the heroine, Katniss Everdeen, in the process, I could barely breathe before seeing Gary Ross’s film adaptation of THE HUNGER GAMES. I was downright giddy going in. I was also horribly worried that the whole thing would just fall apart before my eyes. I was pretty sure that wouldn’t happen but what if it did? I would be crushed. Forget about me though. The legions of fans that have been intensely anticipating this film would revolt. I exaggerate but you get my point. And so, I found myself holding my breath quite often throughout the film - either the action was incredibly tense or I was worried the novel’s more delicate nuances and pivotal moments would become missed opportunities. And so that you can just sit back and enjoy the incredible ride without the worry I went in with, I assure you in advance that THE HUNGER GAMES will satisfy all of your cravings.

Now, THE HUNGER GAMES isn’t just for people who have the read the book, y’know. For those of you out there who haven’t, the global hysteria over the film must seem a bit bizarre. This is likely especially true when the trailers elude to some form of fight to the finish tournament, reminiscent of THE RUNNING MAN, with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Fortunately, there is way more to it than that. Taking place in the North America of the future, now known as Panem, the “Hunger Games” are an annual sport where one boy and girl, between the ages of 12 and 18, are chosen from each district to compete in an arena until only one is standing. There are 12 districts in all and each one is worse off than the last. The games are a reminder from the ruling Capital, where no one goes without, to the peasants in the districts of their failed revolution from years past. The games remind them that they do not really matter, but yet they are forced to not only participate in them but even follow them and celebrate them. Katniss (played here by the mesmerizing Jennifer Lawrence) is the “tribute” from District 12, one of the least likely to come out alive.

Of course, when a series of novels is as loved as THE HUNGER GAMES is, the film adaptation is always greatly scrutinized for inaccuracy and loyalty to the original text. In the novel, Katniss is always the focus. We never leave her perspective at any time. The film cannot do this. Instead, it shows the viewer the other side of the games. While Katniss describes her disgust for the barbarism of the games in her own head in the novel, here Ross must show us what it is she is repulsed by. The change in point of view keeps the pace brisk, which is perhaps one of the greatest changes in tone from page to screen, as well as one of my only disappointments, albeit slight . By staying in the games at all times in the book, there are days when nothing happens, where dehydration is a real threat. As this would bore film audiences, the action has to be broken up. As a result, some moments can feel a tad rushed (I won’t say which ones; you’ll see) but the intention to honour the original work is so honest and pure, that all is quite easily forgiven. Besides, this isn’t the book. This is the movie and it finds its own tone, one that is at times, quiet and contemplative, while disarming and profound at others.

To some, THE HUNGER GAMES might seem like the next big tween craze but it is the furthest thing from that really. Yes, Katniss is torn between Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), the man she enters the games with, and Gale (Liam Hemsworth), the man she left back in District 12, but this is not another TWILIGHT. Katniss is a complicated character with a complex background that makes her reticent to love, makes her fiercely guarded, and Lawrence does the character great justice. She has moments where she embodies both strength and fear simultaneously and you wonder why anyone ever had any concern she wasn’t right for the part. Thanks in great part to her performance, as well as Ross’s sturdy grip on the rest of the film, in today’s context, THE HUNGER GAMES is a commentary on the increasing global class divide and our continued desensitization to violence. It is also a thrilling experience. I have not read the second or third books in the series but something tells me there is another uprising coming before long. This is good too because after filling up on THE HUNGER GAMES, you will be left starving for more. In fact, it left me ravenous.

Best of Black Sheep: THE MUPPETS

Written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller
Directed by James Bobin
Starring Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper and Kermit the Frog

Kermit the Frog: Maybe you don't need the whole world to love you. Maybe you just need one person.

The first Muppet movie in over 10 years, simply called THE MUPPETS, was tailor made for people just like me – fans of the show that long for simpler times, when frogs both ran theatres and away from pigs. With the threat of losing their long abandoned Muppet Theatre, the whole gang – joined by Amy Adams, brand new Muppet, Walter, and co-writer (and new personal hero) Jason Segel  – band together to put on one more show to prove to the world, and themselves, that they still have what it takes. At the risk of giving it all away, I can assure you, The Muppets definitely still have it.

In today’s fast paced world of crude humour and low attention spans, The Muppets run the risk of being perceived as no longer relevant. Segel, and co-writer, Nicholas Stoller (director of Segel collaboration, FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL), weave this danger into their plot. The setting is the present and, as we Muppet fans know, there has been very little Muppet presence in the media for some time now. Fans have not forgotten but they have long since moved on. Segel plays Gary, a character that mirrors his real life devotion to The Muppets. Together with his brother, Walter (a Muppet voiced by Peter Linz), they use their deep rooted appreciation for The Muppets to convince them to come out of retirement. It remains unknown as to whether contemporary audiences will still care but the sense of nostalgia that permeates every moment of this film draws fans in and gets the whole audience rooting for the comeback they so truly deserve.

In that sense, it is brilliantly written, modernized without feeling inauthentic. If you were a fan of The Muppets, you will be inundated with warm memories and fuzzy feelings throughout this film. From a strictly critical perspective, there are a few musical moments (written by Bret McKenzie, one half of the Flight of the Conchords duo) that drag, a few plot holes that could have saved their theatre without having to actually put on a show and a few cameos (from Sarah Silverman to Neil Patrick Harris to Feist) that were clearly longer to begin with, but when you’re caught up in this much fun, these kinds of things hardly matter. When it comes down to it, I laughed; I cried; and I wanted to watch it again as soon as it ended. THE MUPPETS is without question the family movie of the year!

Saturday, March 17, 2012


Written by Andrew Steele
Directed by Matt Piedmont
Starring Will Ferrell, Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna and Genesis Rodriguez

Opening announcement: If it sounds Spanish, man, that's what it is; it's a Spanish movie.

From the moment the camera freezes on Will Ferrell staring intensely into the audience, surrounded by painted backdrops and fake set pieces, one knows exactly what kind of comedy they’re in store for. Ferrell, who learned Spanish, or at least the Spanish used in the script, in just one month, plays Armando Alvarez, a coward who must overcome his fears in order to bring down the Mexican drug trade, restore dignity to his family and get the girl in this cheeky telenovela send up. Under the direction of frequent “Funny or Die” collaborator, Matt Piedmont, and co-starring Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, CASA DE MI PADRE is just plain ridiculous and if that suits your mood, it is also muy comica.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


Written and Directed by Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass
Starring Jason Segel, Ed Helms and Susan Sarandon

JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME is a movie about brothers, made by the same brothers who scored last time out with the indie hit, CYRUS. This time around, the Duplass brothers have enlisted two of today’s greatest comic actors, Jason Segel and Ed Helms, to embody their special brand of misunderstood losers. Jeff (Segel), who incidentally lives at home if you had not already heard, is as lost as one would expect a 30-year-old living in his parent’s basement to be. As he looks for a sign to show him the way, he finds his brother, Pat (Helms), who doesn’t live at home but is just as lost. They find each other while we find quiet and endearing laughter.

This review was originally published in Hour Community.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Best of Black Sheep: THE DESCENDANTS

Written by Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Directed by Alexander Payne
Starring George Clooney, Shailene Woodley and Judy Greer

Matt King: I’m the back-up parent, the understudy.

It has been seven years since Alexander Payne’s last feature film, SIDEWAYS, charmed critics and audiences alike. The long gestation period has allowed him to make  what I would describe as his most satisfying film to date, THE DESCENDANTS. Considering how much I love his earlier films, like ELECTION and ABOUT SCHMIDT, calling his latest his greatest is not a compliment I extend lightly.

At on point in THE DESCENDANTS, a character refers to Matt King’s (George Clooney) current predicament to be one heck of a “unique dramatic situation” and he is not kidding. Payne’s witty sceenplay finds every single important tie in Matt’s life has been tangled together and he can no longer move forward until he figures out how to loosen the ropes that are tightening around him. As the executor of his family’s estate, he is responsible for deciding what to do with a fine piece of Hawaiian real estate his ancestors left to him in trust, which has drawn much scrutiny from the locals. More importantly though, his wife is in a coma from a speed boating accident and he has two daughters (Amara Miller and breakout, Shailene Woodley) he barely knows to comfort and console. When he learns that his wife was cheating on him before her accident, it becomes pretty clear that the life he knew is now finished.

As particular as THE DESCENDANTS is, Payne infuses it with his special brand of humanity, sensitivity and humour. Payne has an uncanny knack for bringing his audiences right into the troubled minds of his characters, leaving both their pain and their potential exposed for all to see. In this case, all that heart and heartache seeps from every element of Clooney’s fine performance. With so much on his plate, you can constantly see the wheels turning in his head as he drifts off into thought in the gorgeous Hawaiian skyline.  He acts as a filter of sorts for everything coming before this moment in his life, now faced with the task of passing on only the best parts to his two beautiful daughters. In doing so, THE DESCENDANTS only passes on the best that contemporary drama has to offer to us.

Monday, March 12, 2012


Directed by Constance Marks
Narrated by Whoopi Goldberg

I was always a big Muppets fan growing up but I must have grown out of “Sesame Street” just before Elmo got there because I have no childhood recollections of the lovable little red fur guy. And judging from how massive Elmo’s a global fan base is today, I’m pretty sure that if I had seen him as a kid, I would have fallen in love with him just as much as everyone else has. Over the years, Elmo has grown to rank as one of the most popular Muppets of all time, standing alongside the likes of Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear. BEING ELMO: A PUPPETEER’S JOURNEY goes beneath the frame to introduce the man below Elmo, Kevin Clash, the self-made puppeteer who found himself crouching alongside Jim Henson and Frank Oz.

Under Constance Marks’ direction, this portrait of Clash is tender one that gives the viewer a true success story. Clash started making puppets when he started watching “Sesame Street” as a child and never looked back. Thanks to the beautifully unflinching support of his parents, said to be the inspiration behind the puppet that would become his legacy, Clash never lost sight of his dreams. His determination and raw talent were evident to all who met him and the love his success has brought him is channeled through the unwavering love of Elmo himself. The film itself isn’t terribly dynamic but what it makes up in formal aesthetic, it more than makes up for in heart. And if there’s anything Elmo has ever taught us, its that heart is what matters most of all.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


Written and Directed by Jennifer Westfeldt
Starring Jennifer Westfeldt, Adam Scott, Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd, Ed Burns and Megan Fox

I don’t know if you’ve heard this one before but indulge me a moment. Couples, no matter how much chemistry they have, be that physical or emotional, will inevitably crumble to pieces when they bring kids into their lives. For years now, love and intimacy have been seen as the killers of freedom and individuality. Now, its time for babies to step in and bring their special brand of devastation to the cornerstone of American society known as marriage. Enter new comedy, FRIENDS WITH KIDS, from first time director, Jennifer Westfeldt, to either capitalize on or continue to perpetuate this modern notion.

FRIENDS WITH KIDS is a sharp, savvy comedy, set in what seems like the only place this story could take place, New York City. Two perfectly plutonic friends, played by the charmingly neurotic Westfeldt and the just plain charming, Adam Scott, decide to have a baby together when they see how their friends’ relationships have deteriorated after having them. They both want kids but they don’t want the disaster that comes with having them. Just look at their examples! To their right, they have Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig. They used to have sex constantly but post-baby, they can barely look at each other. To their left, Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd are drowning in diapers and despair. Can Westfeldt and Scott avoid the baby bomb that killed their friends? Though obvious counterpoints to play off of, this miniature BRIDESMAIDS reunion ensemble brings humanity to these characters, allowing them to be more real than they would have been in lesser hands. It may never get uproarious but Westfeldt provides her laughs with enough insight and heart to make them matter.

I know plenty of people who subscribe to this “Baby = Bad” theory and are putting off children specifically out of fear for what hell they will bring. That being said, I know just as many people who have children and who have become stronger families as a result. The truth of it is, and please keep in mind this is a truth spoken by someone who neither has children nor is in any position to have them anytime in the near future, that having children is difficult. It will place a strain on your relationship that may cause irreparable damage if you aren’t careful. If you survive the initial stress though, the strength derived from the experience is invaluable. And even though FRIENDS WITH KIDS is ripe with easy devices and tricks, Westfeldt (who incidentally wrote and starred in one one my favourite indies, KISSING JESSICA STEIN) is a clever enough writer to understand that even cliches have enough nuances of their own that separate them from the pack. From the way she takes care of her characters, you can tell this film is her baby.

Thursday, March 08, 2012


Written by Simon Beaufoy
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom
Starring Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt and Kristin Scott Thomas

The people behind SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN are fully aware of how ridiculous the title of their movie is. In fact, director Lasse Hallstrom capitalizes on just how ludicrous the entire concept of transplanting salmon fishing as a sport form Ireland to the Yemen truly is, by juxtaposing it against that other ever elusive impossibility we call love. Enter Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt. He’s repressed; she’s passionate. Clearly, they have much to learn from each other. The whole international affair is a tad bit obvious at times in its intention but thanks to delightful turns by McGregor, Blunt and a hysterical Kristin Scott Thomas, this film is abundantly charming.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012


Written by Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon
Directed by Andrew Stanton
Starring Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, Willem Dafoe and Mark Strong

Introduction: Mars - So you name it and think you know it.

In all honesty, there are only two reasons I wanted to see JOHN CARTER. The first was to see the live-action debut from Andrew Stanton, a director who has given me two of my favorite films, FINDING NEMO and WALL-E, and who has established himself as one of the great contemporary animated filmmakers. The second reason I wanted to see JOHN CARTER was so that I could finally make sense of what was happening in the trailers for the film. Every time I would see them, my head would hurt trying to figure out what exactly it was I was looking at. Sadly, making sense of the images, did nothing to make them any more interesting to me. It’s passable but I doubt it will ever be memorable.

For those of you who are still in the dark about JOHN CARTER, allow me to break it down for you. A young marksman by the name of John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is evading the army in 1881, New York City. He struggles with a weird bald guy wearing a robe in a cave and suddenly he is on Mars, otherwise known to the people of Mars as Barsoom. Here he is dropped into the middle of planetary unrest and civil war and he can’t even understand how to get his footing on the ground. He encounters a species known as the  Tarks and they take him into their barbaric society, which leads to his eventual meeting with Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), the princess of one of the planet’s last remaining ruling cities. And like most princesses I know, she needs saving. Civilizations are crashing all over Barsoom but yet the fate of the planet hangs in the balance of whether the princess decides to marry the mean man or not. Different planet, same old contrived plot problem.

I readily admit that fantasy films are not my thing but I have no problems getting lost in the imaginings of another man’s mind as long as there seems to be adequate reason to be there. JOHN CARTER is plenty pretty from a visual standpoint and contains many a well executed thrill sequence but it never reaches the heights its grandness needs to sustain itself. Albeit based on a much loved and thought to be heavily influential Edgar Rice Burroughs (the author who created “Tarzan”) series, JOHN CARTER the movie bears very little weight or depth, which leaves the viewer wondering what all the fuss is about. If this is truly one of the greatest untold film stories, then why does it feel like a somewhat tenuous cornerstone of a film franchise that may never live to see its first sequel?

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Best of Black Sheep: Black Sheep interviews Antonio Banderas

An interview with THE SKIN IN LIVE IN star, Antonio Banderas

In 1986, a relatively unknown Spanish director by the name of Pedro Almodovar, cast a little known young actor, named Antonio Banderas, in MATADOR, a controversial indie film about a former bullfighter and a lawyer who get turned on by the act of killing. The successful pairing would repeat itself three more times in three more years but then Banderas would move to Hollywood. It’s been 20 years since this famous twosome last worked together.

“I was in New York doing a workshop for a musical there and Pedro called me when I was in the car and said, ‘It’s about time.’” Banderas has a smirk on his face as he recalls the story of when he and his old friend decided to make another movie again. “He didn’t even introduce himself. He just called me and the first thing that I heard was ‘It’s about time.’”

This was still a ways back even. Banderas, now 51 years old, was working on a 2003 production of Nine on Broadway when he first read, THE SKIN IN LIVE IN (LA PIEL QUE HABITO), and even though he knew it would be some time before the two would be able to coordinate their schedules, he was still very careful to give this script its due. “I know that the first time I read a script is the only time that I’m going to be a spectator of my own work,” Banderas says, demonstrating an appreciation for his craft I’m not sure why I wasn’t expecting. “From that moment on, I’m contaminated.”

Banderas and Almodovar at Cannes 2011
Banderas’s choice of words are particularly poignant in this case considering how easily THE SKIN IN LIVE IN gets under your skin. Loosely based on a novel called, Tarantula, by Thierry Jonquet, Almodovar’s film is as stylish as one would expect but also deeply disturbing, with Banderas anchoring most of that madness as a scientist consumed by a mounting obsession. It plays with time and convention; it has scenes of costumed rape and bloody mutilation; in essence, the film is executed with an eerie and concise control that Banderas finds quite admirable. “In the formal aspects, Pedro has become more minimalist, more austere. He is now more serious, more complex, more profound.”

It isn’t the mainstream he has grown accustomed to in Hollywood but Banderas believes there is a place for all forms of cinema in the world today. “I cannot ask a guy who has been working on the roads under the sun the entire week to go see 8 1/2 by Federico Fellini on the weekend,” he jokes. “What he needs is to take his girlfriend and a big bucket of popcorn to see PUSS IN BOOTS.” As both the aforementioned SHREK spinoff, in which Banderas voices the titular Puss, and the Almodovar picture are playing well to their respective audiences, he has a point.

Banderas watching The Skin I Live In co-star, Elena Ayaya
“Pedro is a genre unto himself,” Banderas states, after citing Lars Von Trier and Terrence Malick as Almodovar’s most comparable contemporaries. “In one scene, you feel like you are in the altitudes of Shakespeare and three minutes after you are in a soap opera from Mexico and everything in between.” As much of a mind melt that can be at times, especially on set, Banderas would not have it any other way. “Pedro loves to go to different places and explore the more intricate complexities of the human experience. He keeps turning the wheels.”

Banderas returns to Hollywood next in Steven Soderbergh’s upcoming thriller, HAYWIRE, and comedy in Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’s follow-up to LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, entitled HE LOVES ME. His break from the masses to return home to the familiar was a welcome one though. “Going back to Pedro at this particular time in my life is like a Coca-Cola in the desert. It feels good, it feels very good.”

On the set with Almodovar
This article originally appeared in Hour Community.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Black Sheep Interviews Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin

An interview with UNDEFEATED directors, Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin

“It was completely unexpected,” filmmaker, T.J. Martin tells me of his Oscar win for Best Documentary Feature, an honour he shares with two-time collaborator, Daniel Lindsay. Just days before the three of us speak over the phone, Martin and Lindsay were sitting amongst the biggest names in Hollywood, each of them waiting to hear PARADISE LOST 3: PURGATORY called as the winner in their category. When Robert Downey Jr. announced that their film, UNDEFEATED, had in fact won the Academy Award, it was bewildering to say the least. Concludes Martin on the moment, “I didn’t quite understand what was happening.”

Martin and Lindsay, along with their producing partner, Rich Middlemass, were cut off during their acceptance speech, which has turned their win somewhat sour unfortunately. UNDEFEATED tells the story of a North Memphis high school football team that reaches completely unexpected levels of success in their senior year, despite a number of socioeconomic obstacles. The filmmakers were cut off before they were able to thank the players and the community, which has in turn led to a number of people from the community denouncing the filmmakers as opportunistic.

“In our naiveté, we wanted to save the best for last and dedicate the award to the players and the coaches and the people of North Memphis,” Lindsay tells me, with clear pain in his tone. “It’s been really difficult, to be honest with you,” he continues. “If we could have that moment back, we would start with them.”

While a shout out at the Academy Awards would have been appreciative, I believe that the win itself outweighs their not being mentioned on television. The fact is more people will see UNDEFEATED now that it has won the Oscar, allowing for more people to be made aware of the community’s plight.

Undefeated (2011)
“We wanted a celebratory narrative in a community that often times would never have it,” Lindsay tells me of their original intentions for the film. “Hopefully we could show the potential in a place where a lot of people think there isn’t any potential, but never shy away from the reality, so that a conversation can happen.”

The conversation in question is one that is still difficult even today to have. “We want the film to inspire a conversation about class and how closely that is related to race in this country,” Lindsay explains further. “We never wanted to tell people what they should think. We just wanted to present a world and allow for that conversation to happen. We’re not experts in any of this and don’t want to pretend that we are.”

Now, does that sound like opportunism to you?

As revealing as UNDEFEATED is regarding class struggles in America, its success as a satisfying documentary can perhaps most be attributed to the surprising familiarity in its structure. The Manassas Tigers, the team the film features, are considered a joke by every other team in their district. This season was different though; this season, they were winning. Suddenly, although they never set out to pursue this course, the filmmakers had the structure of a narrative sports movie on their hands.

Middlemass, Martin and Lindsay backstage at the Academy Awards
“We did fight against the sports movie story for a long time,” explains Martin of his initial reluctance to the way his film was evolving. “It wasn’t until midway through the season where we realized that A) a lot of the drama was unfolding on the field and B) the football team spine and structure of the film was really shaping up into a nice three act structure.” While it may be unexpected, its accessibility certainly won’t hurt UNDEFEATED when it comes to finding an audience.

Still, it was never about whether the kids won or lost. “Even if they had lost all their games,” Martin states, with both adamancy and pride, “we would have still made a human interest piece at the end of the day, a coming of age story about the kids and the challenges and obstacles they face every day, both on and off the field.”

UNDEFEATED is in select threatres now. Sports fans and human interest enthusiasts alike should make a point to see it.

Friday, March 02, 2012


Written by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul
Directed by Chris Renaud
Voices by Ed Helms, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift and Danny DeVito

The Lorax: A tree falls the way it leans. Be careful which way you lean.

DR. SEUSS’ THE LORAX is perhaps the most blatantly obvious attempt to speak down to people about the perils of industrialization on the environment since AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH. Yes, I understand this is a children’s film, but the original work from 1971 was a brave warning of trouble to come, while director, Chris Renaud’s follow-up to DESPICABLE ME, is just a complete farce, unlikely to inspire any young people to care about the planet. Sadly, I don’t see it encouraging a lot of laughter and enjoyment in kids either. As is unfortunately too often the case, this is another Seuss adaptation that gets the imagination in the imagery right but doesn’t understand the roots of the story.

It didn’t take very long for me to stop enjoying THE LORAX. This stumpy, little orange thing (voiced by Danny DeVito), with a pretty well maintained mustache appears on screen to welcome us to the tale at the onset of the film. He’s certainly cute but the rhymes he drops sound somewhat watered down. And then before you know it, the entire thing turns into a giant musical number to introduce the good people of Thneedville that make up the story. It is awkward and uncomfortable to watch and while I’m sure Renaud imagined this opening as a grand and triumphant celebration of Dr. Seuss, it merely only serves to confirm that this will be a Seuss translation that doesn’t sustain its expansion into a feature length film. I’m no Seuss expert but I’m pretty sure he would never have used the phrase, “I know, right.”

Weak rhymes and unsuccessful modernization aside, THE LORAX is weighty and that is ultimately its undoing. Ted (Zac Efron) tries to impress a girl (Taylor Swift) by finding her a real tree in a world made entirely of plastic. In doing so, he meets The Once-ler (Ed Helms), who proceeds to tell him about how he chopped them all down long ago to pursue his own greedy needs. Let alone that the entire motivation of this story is about a girl and not really about the environment itself, the manner in which The Once-ler’s story’s is told is almost condemning. By the time he sings about how bad could he possibly be for pushing his own agenda at the expense of the planet, towering on screen and painted as this evil, destructive giant, I was done with it. It’s one thing to use media to scare adults into conforming but its a whole other level of wrong to use that same tactic on children. At least, the movie looks pretty.