Saturday, April 28, 2012


Written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller
Directed by Nicholas Stoller
Starring Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Chris Pratt and Alison Brie

Susie Barnes: You know I don’t believe in kids and marriage and shit but when I see the two of you together, I get what the whole situation is about.

A comedy called THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT promises a cute couple who will inevitably run into a number of obstacles on their way to the alter. You half expect disasters with the florist, catastrophes with the caterer and unexpected happenings to happen just in time to postpone the wedding a little while longer. Instead, what you get in the Nicholas Stoller (FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL, GET HIM TO THE GREEK) version of this movie, is one where only one thing gets in the way of the titular engagement becoming a wedding - life. And this particular life is likely a lot more real than you would ever guess.

Tom and Violet (Jason Segel and Emily Blunt) are absolutely adorable with each other on screen. They met on New Year’s Eve at a costumed superhero party of sorts and then are engaged a year later on the same night. He is a promising sous-chef on the hot San Francisco restaurant scene and she is a bright academic, who is awaiting placement at a prominent San Francisco university to pursue her doctorate. They are the envy of their friends and family and why shouldn’t they be? They have the real deal, the kind of love that is increasingly only found in the movies. Segel and Blunt make you believe you can still find a love like this in real life even in today’s cynical times and this is partly thanks to all the real life garbage that these two get dealt that derails their wedding plans. Trouble with the seating arrangement is one thing; figuring out how to compromise in a relationship so that both parties are happy with their lives, now that’s a whole other trick to master.

The hard times Tom and Violet go through on their way to their wedding make THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT a much more sombre comedy than one would expect. Still, when its funny, it is uproarious. It’s hard not to be with such an incredibly strong supporting cast, from Chris Pratt and Alison Brie, as the disastrous counter couple to Tom and Violet, who seem to get everything right without even trying, to recent Oscar nominee, Jacki Weaver, as the driest of future mother-in-law’s that there ever was. Director, Stoller, along with his writing partner, Segel, continue to prove that they can find great laughs in some of life’s more sobering experiences. And in doing so here, they prove how little significance a wedding truly has when weighed against the marriage itself.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Written and Directed by Ti West
Starring Sara Paxton, Pat Healy and Kelly McGillis

It takes about 50 minutes before anything remotely close to scary happens in THE INNKEEPERS, a ghost story movie with a homegrown feel. Even then, the scary moment takes place in a dream so it doesn’t really count. Up until this point, our time is spent with Claire and Luke (Sara Paxton and Pat Healy), the front desk clerks at the Yankee Pedlar Inn. The inn is entering into its last weekend in business. Apparently no one wants to stay there any more. This could be because the inn is haunted but I doubt it. As someone who has spent some time at the inn, and very little at that, I can tell you that it was one of the worst hotel stays I’ve had in my life.

THE INNKEEPERS somehow managed to generate enough indie buzz to register on my radar despite only playing on all of 27 screens during its theatrical run. The trailer sold it as stylish and psychological, like one of these underground horror gems that might one day be sold to and devoured by the masses. It was downright chilling but these particular thrills only come near the end of the film, leaving an awful long time to lose all interest in seeing them. I felt trapped watching this film, like I was a guest at this hotel who had already paid up his stay and didn’t want to waste the money by leaving. I also experienced an odd curiosity as to whether the film was ever going to get better. It doesn’t.

The problem with THE INNKEEPERS is writer/director, Ti West. He obviously has a very high opinion of his abilities and a very low opinion of our intelligence. Not only does he subject us to scene after painful scene of Claire and Luke waffling back and forth between wanting to know whether the inn is haunted or being too scared to find out, but he does so with what seems like the most simple of direction to his actors. Be pouty here, Claire. Be sarcastic here, Luke. Now be silly! Now be drunk! Now be scared! It’s all so stiff and it most certainly didn’t get there by being scared.

Oh, and what did Kelly McGillis do to deserve this?

Review copy provided by eOne Entertainment.

Black Sheep interview Kim Wayans

An interview with PARIAH actress, Kim Wayans

This article was originally published in Ottawa Xpress.

Mothers are supposed to be the great protectors of their children. To this day though, homosexuality still seems to be a decisive issue that can tear a mother and child clear apart from each other, making the mother what the child needs protection from. In PARIAH, an excellent coming of age story from director, Dee Rees, this exact breakdown takes place and breaks the viewers’ hearts.

How can a mother turn her child away like this? This is the question Kim Wayans, a veteran actress who is not in fact a mother herself, must ask herself. “She is making a mistake. This is against God, according to Audrey,” Wayans begins to explain to me of how she felt her character might be feeling after discovering her 17-year-old daughter, Aike (Independent Spirit nominee, Adepero Aduye), is a lesbian. “So she is in danger now of being banished to hell. There’s that. Then there’s a mother’s disappointment of all the hopes and dreams she had for her daughter disappearing.”

Wayans attributes this disappointment to the emptiness in Audrey’s world. “It’s coming from a person who is not happy in her own life. She is ostracized from everyone. She is a pariah herself,” says Wayans, who was not involved in the original short film PARIAH was adapted from. “This shell of a woman has projected so much onto this little girl. As a mother, I failed because she is not what I wanted her to be.”

Having gotten her start on the Cosby Show spinoff, "A Different World", Wayans is perhaps best known for her work on her brother, Keenan Ivory Wayans’ sketch comedy, "In Living Color". Her experience in comedy has posed some challenges for Wayans attempts at dramatic acting. “The funny thing is the challenge doesn’t lie with the performance. The challenge lies with the labeling and putting people in boxes.” It was easy to tell she was relieved to have gotten the chance to play this part. “I’m either telling a comedic story or I’m telling a dramatic story but I’m still telling a story.”

As painful as PARIAH can be at times, it is a genuinely uplifting and honest film. It is Wayans’ hope that when people see the film that it opens a dialogue so situations like this can be avoided in the future. “People are in denial. So many children in the gay community are being hurt every day just by the sheer denial of who they are. We all crave being loved and accepted for who we authentically are, so when you come into opposition and rejection when you’re just trying to express that authenticity, I can’t think of anything more damaging.”

Spoken like a real mother.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Written by Will Fetters
Directed by Scott Hicks
Starring Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling and Blythe Danner

Beth: Why did you come here?
Logan: To find you.

The words, “Based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks” are not usually words that get me into a movie theatre. Actually, they are usually a pretty clear indication to stay away for me. Of the seven films that were adapted from his works, I’ve only seen two up until a couple of days ago. Sure, THE NOTEBOOK is a standout but it seems as if Hollywood has been trying to recapture that magic ever since, with varying degrees of success. I caved on THE LUCKY ONE though and I’m ashamed to admit why. Essentially, I just could not resist my giant, inappropriate crush on Zac Efron. Hopefully, one day soon, I will come to realize that the words, “Starring Zac Efron” should be just as much of a warning to me as the ones I mentioned earlier about Sparks.

Having never read a Sparks novel, I cannot say whether the blame for such an insipid premise is entirely his or untested screenwriter, Will Fetters’ instead. From the moment THE LUCKY ONE begins with an Efron voiceover spitting out cliche after cliche about destiny and following your path and unexpected surprises, it is practically impossible to take anything that follows seriously. Efron plays Logan (no joke), a marine (again, no joke) who finds a picture of a pretty girl in the sand in Afghanistan (or I guess it could be Iraq; there was a desert and they were none too specific in the film), just in time to save him from being too close to an explosion. From that moment on, he sees her as his guardian angel and vows to find her when he gets home (which he does by matching a lighthouse in the photo to others online of course). After a brief and mandatory difficulty with adjusting to civilian life, Logan finds his mystery girl, Beth (Taylor Schilling), but cannot find the words to tell her why he sought her out to begin with. Suffice it to say, complications arise, including a deceased brother who was also a marine and an ex-husband who is an alcoholic, abusive bully (naturally), postponing Logan’s announcement even further, which is where the film loses me. We proceed to spend all this time waiting for him to tell her his story as if it were a bad thing or underhanded. In reality, its a lovely story. Too bad the film doesn’t see it that way though.

THE LUCKY ONE has one true purpose and that is to sell Efron as a romantic leading man for young women (and myself apparently) to swoon over in repeat viewings. If we aren’t fixated on his beautiful blue eyes looking longingly and pensive into the distance, then we are staring relentlessly at his bulging arm muscles while he carries heavy objects on his back or allowing our gaze to travel south when he strips down to the real lucky ones, his underwear. I would almost be ready to buy into it too if he weren’t trapped in this horrible contrived and confused package. I’m afraid Efron’s true fortune (not that he doesn’t have enough already) will only come once Hollywood starts to see him as more than just a pretty boy. I’m not so sure he’s that lucky though.

PS. Shame on you, Scott Hicks. You are an Oscar nominated director. (SHINE)

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Written and Directed by Whit Stillman
Starring Greta Gerwig, Adam Brody and Analeigh Tipton

Violet: We're also trying to make a difference in people's lives. One way to do that is to stop them from killing themselves.

A group of sorority girls decide to take on depression and suicide prevention, whilst grooming the fraternity riffraff into respectable young men, in Whit Stillman’s DAMSELS IN DISTRESS, his first film since 1998’s THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO. It isn’t long before the boys resort to their baser needs though, causing the ladies to need their own therapy. The ensemble cast, led by Greta Gerwig and Adam Brody, are all delightful. True to Stillman’s form, everyone speaks with great enunciation and elaborate vocabulary, yet the tone remains light and whimsical. DAMSELS IN DISTRESS is a dry, witty satire that pokes fun at the foolishness behind intellectualizing emotions, and while it may be too high brow for some, it will surely be a guilty pleasure for others.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Directed by Morgan Spurlock

Once a year, legions of enthusiasts of all things geeky and niche, make their way from far and wide to San Diego, California, for the only Comic-Con that truly matters. Their passion is untamed and is usually expressed in elaborate dress and costume. This parade of excess and devotion has been captured and also honoured in the now infamous documentarian, Morgan Spurlock’s latest, COMIC-CON EPISODE IV: A FAN'S HOPE. Suffice it to say that if you don’t get the Star Wars reference in the title, this film is not for you. For everyone else though, Spurlock has crafted a touching and cheeky look at how the convention and its fans have changed over the years. And he doesn't narrate this one either! I don't ordinarily mind him at all and I commend him for managing to maintain his witty tone without appearing on screen.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Black Sheep interviews Steve McQueen

An interview with Steve McQueen, writer/director of SHAME

The other day, I joked to a friend that I had received shame in the mail. Of course, I was referring to my review copy of SHAME by Steve McQueen, but I preferred to remain cheekily ambiguous. It did get me thinking about how the title of the film might be more apt than originally imagined though. Sadly, SHAME, one of this critic’s top picks from last year, was scarcely seen in theatres. I had been out to see it twice and was deeply moved both instances but when the topic is sexual addiction and the content is widely publicized as explicit, the crowds do not always follow. There is at times an underlying sense of shame in seeing something so sexual amidst strangers. Perhaps now that the film is available for home consumption, privacy will make way for its genius to be appreciated. I’m just pleased it didn’t come wrapped in black plastic.

McQueen, a novice director whose mastery of the language of film is miles away from amateur, knows that the film is a hard sell but suspects that there are other levels to the depths of our shame. “He’s like us,” McQueen tells me of his protagonist, Brandon (Michael Fassbender), when we meet at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2011. “We do not have self worth. If we did, the world would be a fantastic place but we keep on fucking up and trying to fix it.” The notion here is that those who cannot handle Brandon, don’t want to look at themselves. McQueen continues, “He’s trying, that’s what is so endearing about him. I’ve come to appreciate that people who have an affinity with Brandon is because they understand him and I think that’s important.”

Asking people to understand Brandon means asking them to accept sexual addiction as a legitimate affliction. This is something even McQueen had a hard time with before he sat down to write the screenplay for SHAME with co-writer, Abi Morgan (THE IRON LADY). “When I first heard of sexual addiction, I laughed of course, as you do. It’s like if we take a great drunk, makes everyone laugh. Well, when you realize it takes him two bottles of vodka to make it through the day, it ceases to be funny. When it comes to sex addiction, you realize this guy has to have sex, to a certain extent, every day and it then ceases to be titallating. Any emotional involvement, any emotional risk at all, it just fucks him up.”

SHAME is McQueen’s second film and also second working with Fassbender in the leading role. Their first pairing was McQueen’s award winning debut, HUNGER, where Fassbender played Irish Republic Army leader, Bobby Sands, during his time in prison. The two are slated to work together again on McQueen’s third feature, TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE, so what is it about McQueen that keeps Fassbender coming back for more? “The one thing that really impressed me when we were in Northern Ireland, doing HUNGER, was the passion that everybody came to the set with. Nobody wanted to let Steve down,” says Fassbender, before he takes a breath and continues to gush about his friend and colleague. “Steve leads by example. He is a very open, confident man. He’s not afraid to fall flat on his face, or rather he is afraid but not afraid to show that he’s afraid and show his vulnerabilities. That makes him a giant, very strong, so people follow him.”

McQueen is a concise man, both in his artistic expression and general conversation. When asked about the choice of New York City as location for SHAME, he says, “New York is the epicenter of excess.”

When asked about the lack of backstory for Brandon and his equally damaged sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), he says, “I didn’t want to be mysterious at all; I wanted to it be familiar.”

And when asked why he favors such long shots in his films, he says, “The content demands the form. Some times long is long but sometimes long is necessity.”

Our interview took place in under 10 minutes and he was able to answer almost ten questions in that time. His answers were sometimes curt and abrasive and other times flourished and detailed; it all depended on what was asked. What is unmistakably clear after meeting McQueen is that he certainly has no shame whatsoever for anything he has done in his career and nor should he. He makes art for art’s sake and what people think of his work, well he is just as efficient with that answer too. “Whether people like it or they don’t like it, either way, I don’t care. I just hope they’re very passionate about it.”

SHAME is now available to rent or own. Do not be ashamed to bring it into your home.

Best of Black Sheep: SHAME

Written and by Abi Morgan and Steve McQueen 
Directed by Steve McQueen
Starring Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan

Brandon: Some people fuck up all the time.

Steve McQueen’s sophomore film, SHAME, begins with his returning star, Michael Fassbender, lying in bed, staring at the ceiling or into some far off space. He doesn’t move; he just lies there half covered by the blankets for some time. Something in his eyes suggests he can’t move just yet. He is trapped in those precious morning moments, where you become aware again of everything sleep managed to erase temporarily the night before. To get up, means having to face it all again and once you see what it is this particular man is trying to avoid, it becomes pretty obvious pretty quickly why he would rather stay in bed.

Fassbender, who owes a great deal of his notoriety to McQueen after the two worked together on  McQueen’s first feature, the brilliant HUNGER, plays Brandon, a New Yorker with a fancy job and an even fancier apartment. He presents perfectly in every fashion but he is hiding a secret, one so big that it could threaten everything he has in his life. Brandon is a sex addict. Some scoff at the whole idea that someone can actually be addicted to sex, as if it is some sort of made up excuse people use to get off the hook for indiscretions. The way McQueen writes the affliction though, it becomes painfully obvious that sex addiction is in fact very real and likely pretty rampant. I wouldn’t call it a disease but it is certainly a learned behaviour that triggers the same pleasure and comfort responses in the brain that any addiction would. Brandon needs sex in his life and he gets more than a little antsy when he doesn’t get his fix.

SHAME does not judge nor does it invite us to judge Brandon. That said, we are not asked to sympathize either. We are simply given the opportunity to observe a man in some of his weaker, more vulnerable moments. Brandon is able to manage his needs fairly well when he has routine in his life but when his sister (Carey Mulligan) comes to stay with him, he is no longer able to keep his habits in the closet. Subsequently, we are witness to them all, in all their naked and sordid glory - this is a movie about sex addiction, after all; you should expect a fair amount of sex. Fassbender is brilliant and fearless as Brandon. As he processes what he’s doing and how it is affecting those around him and his self, Fassbender carries this weight in his entire body. (And I do mean, his entire body.) With SHAME, McQueen and Fassbender prove they aren’t afraid of anything and that HUNGER wasn’t a fluke. The only real shame would be if no one saw this film.

Black Sheep interviews Michael Fassbender

Ain’t No Shame
An interview with Michael Fassbender, star of SHAME

Note: This article was originally published in Montreal's Hour Community.

It can be a bit jarring to go from watching an actor on screen one minute to seeing them sitting directly in front of you the next. It can even be somewhat awkward when you’ve just watched said actor engage in a multitude of sexually explicit encounters on film. When the actor you’re speaking with though is as effortlessly talented as Michael Fassbender is, you quickly realize there is no shame in it at all.

In SHAME, British filmmaker, Steve McQueen’s sophomore effort, Fassbender is naked within minutes of the film starting, so it seems only fitting to begin our conversation there as well. “It’s kinda embarrassing,” says the actor who has nothing at all to be embarrassed about. At this point, I laugh out loud and when Fassbender realizes I’m shocked that he was the least bit shy given how good he looks, he jokes, “Oh I see. You were having a gay old time then.” On that note, the Irish-German actor is clearly quite the charmer, even when fully clothed.

The 34-year-old Fassbender, who won the Best Actor prize at the Venice Film Festival, plays Brandon in SHAME, a sex addict living in New York City. It would seem to me that if you’re going to tell a sex addict’s story on film, you’re going to need to see a little sex happen, but some people have argued that SHAME not only goes too far but that it relishes in its boundary pushing. “It’s ludicrous to me,” Fassbender explains, with only a hint of outrage. “You can take someone’s head off with a cheese cutter but heaven forbid should you show a penis.”

As much as it is about sex, SHAME isn’t really about sex at all; it’s about a person with an addiction. Brandon isn’t the easiest character to like either. He uses women whenever required and he is horribly unsupportive to his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), but Fassbender was never concerned people wouldn’t come around to Brandon. “I knew people were going to like him because I liked him, because he was a guy that knew he was ill. He is a product of our time.”

Despite Brandon’s timeliness, the Motion Picture Association of America has slapped an NC-17 rating on the film, which prohibits anyone under 18 years of age from seeing it, regardless of whether they are accompanied by an adult or not. Ordinarily, this rating means box office death but SHAME wears its badge proudly and is doing well in limited release despite it. “It can be a good thing,” Fassbender says of the rating. “The most important thing is to get people talking about it. That creates curiosity and it only seems to put more bums in the seats in the end.”

A few cuts to the film could have brought the rating down to an R, to which Fassbender responds, “Good luck trying to convince Steve McQueen on that!” Fassbender and McQueen had previously worked together on McQueen’s debut feature, HUNGER, a 2008 film about the 1981 Irish Republican Army hunger strike, as led by Bobby Sands, whom Fassbender portrays in the film. (Incidentally, the two are scheduled to work together again on McQueen’s third feature, TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE, expected in 2014.) “He’s the only person I could have asked to do this,” McQueen tells me about casting Fassbender in Shame. “I don’t believe he’s an actor. He doesn’t act. What he does is a different thing altogether.”

Whatever it is he does, Fassbender will be doing it for quite some time if he keeps up this pace. Upcoming projects for the Best Actor Oscar frontrunner include work with some of today’s most famed directors, from David Cronenberg (A DANGEROUS METHOD) to Steven Soderbergh (HAYWIRE) to Ridley Scott (PROMETHEUS), which is exactly where Fassbender wants his career to be. “The way it is at the moment is pretty perfect for me. I get to work with great filmmakers and that’s as simple as it gets. I just want to mix it up and keep myself guessing.”

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Written and Directed by Phillipe Falardeau
Starring Mohamed Fellag, Sophie Nélisse and Emilien Néron

Alice L’écuyer: My school is beautiful. It may not be the most beautiful but it is mine.

From the moment Quebecois filmmaker, Phillipe Falardeau, opens his latest work, MONSIEUR LAZHAR, on a playground filled with elementary school children scattered about in winter coats and accoutrements, it is clear that the potential for something wondrous is abundant. Falardeau then wastes no time in cutting to the film’s first of many defining moments, when a teacher we’ve never met is introduced to us hanging dead in her classroom, waiting to be found by the little innocent creatures that moments ago were playing in the courtyard, unaware. This bewildering act of desperation and violence is not only impossible to comprehend but it also makes MONSIEUR LAZHAR impossible to forget.

The title character in Canada's submission to the Oscars, played with a delicate balance of gentleness and roughness in a brilliant turn by Mohamed Fellag, enters these childrens’ lives as the replacement for their recently deceased teacher. A fresh coat of paint may not be enough to erase the image of a hanging body from the minds of these impressionable youths, but when a stranger from a strange land comes in and straightens all the desks and gives dictation from Balzac, they cannot help but face forward and pay attention. Only it isn’t as simple as a group of children coping with loss. Monsieur Lazhar is also dealing with his own grief, having fled Algeria after losing his entire family in an act of terrorism. And so he needs this class as much as they need him but they don’t know this and he isn’t willing to admit it. Falardeau is also smart enough to avoid being overly sentimental as well by positioning how difficult it is to be real with children in today’s hypersensitive society. How can you console a child when you cannot even legally hug them?

The healing process, as difficult and as meandering as it can be, is the journey MONSIEUR LAZHAR takes its viewers on. Falardeau shows incredible patience and breadth as a filmmaker, which allows for some shockingly genuine moments of depth from the mostly pre-adolescent cast, especially leads Sophie Nélisse and Emilien Néron. He exhibits a great sense of style, control and awareness. He knows he is asking his audience to hurt alongside his characters, but he also knows that you will come out the other side feeling satisfied and relieved. You need only hold his hand to get there.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Black Sheep interviews Lee Hirsch

An interview with BULLY director, Lee Hirsch

By now, you’ve no doubt heard about the controversial new documentary, BULLY. This important film does not spend its time forcing statistics in its audience’s face, like how 13 million kids will be bullied this year in North America, or how 3 million kids will skip school to avoid being bullied. No, instead BULLY does something that for some reason has been absent thus far in the bullying conversation; it gives a voice to those who know how it feels first hand and that voice is both eye opening and heartbreaking.

“It is amazing to me that there has been so little done on this issue,” director, Lee Hirsh, tells me when we meet just a few hours before a screening and leading a town hall discussion on the topic itself. “To me, it’s such a connective piece about the human experience. Everybody has a story. Everybody has a connection to it. This film gives a lot of people a voice.”

Hirsch, a Long Island, New York native, began making what was originally entitled THE BULLY PROJECT in 2009, when he started following the lives of five different young people throughout their school years. Given the sensitive nature of the subject, Hirsch believed his own experience with bullying made him an ideal choice to tackle the daunting topic. “Part of it was that I was bullied so it was part of my own narrative. I felt like I could do it, like I had the emotional space and connection to be able to tell this story and be in that world. I just saw it in my head because of that.”

Alex is 12 and is bullied because he does not fit in

After premiering to triumphant reviews at the Tribeca and HotDocs film festivals last year, BULLY was picked up by The Weinstein Company for distribution.  Hirsch never expected a major movie company to pick up the film to begin with so the attention the film is receiving now, thanks to a widely publicized battle with the Motion Picture Association of America over an R-rating, is beyond anything he ever imagined. “The rating argument certainly gave us a lot of energy. We never could have bought that publicity or awareness for such a small film.”

In order for the film to be given a PG-13 rating, a rating it has widely received here in Canada across the provinces, there can be no more than one usage of the word, “fuck”. BULLY has six F-words, hence the R. An R-rating means that the audience the film is intended for cannot see the film without parental permission. It also means the film will not likely screen in schools, where it should be mandatory viewing. Hirsch embraces the controversy though. “It is a blessing in disguise because it rallied people to the film. That’s the stuff of movements and that’s really exciting.”

Kelby is 16 and is bullied because she is a lesbian

Since meeting Hirsch for this interview, The Weinstein Company has cut three F-words from the final cut and the MPAA has made a special exception for the film and lowered the rating to PG-13 just in time for its wide American release.

Now, many more will hear the plight of these kids, whose experiences are varied and not so dissimilar to what most victims go through. Simply opening up this dialogue is impressive considering the shame that looms over bully victims. Hirsch elaborates his view on this, “It seems there is a stigma when it comes to talking about bullying. But there is a moment, a shift, when victims feel like they have agency to talk about it. Then the floodgates open.” The film points its most accusatory finger at school administrators and authorities for this. “With bullying, you’re going against existing beliefs that ‘kids will be kids’ and ‘everybody goes through this.’ That shuts people down.”

Hirsch, happy with BULLY's success

The goal now that people are talking about bullying is to make change. On some levels, BULLY may be preaching to the converted but if the right people see it, and if its shown in schools, then the people who need to see it, will see it, then suddenly change is possible. Hirsch offers this advice for a more peaceful future. “You don’t have to get involved with government to do something about bullying. You can just make little choices. You can act with empathy, step up for somebody, talk to your kids more. Small acts do add up. That’s change.”

With more young people killing themselves because of bullying, this particular change is long overdue.

Directed by Lee Hirsch

While the act of bullying may seem to some like a convenient and fashionable talking point for the liberal media, it is in fact a real problem in schools around the globe and Lee Hirsch’s documentary, BULLY, gives the cause the real face it has so desperately needed. Hirsch focuses his attentions on a handful of young people, all different ages and from different walks of life, who have all been bullied and still live the experience regularly. While there isn’t too much bullying caught on tape, the effects on these innocents is heartbreaking. BULLY will have you crying within five minutes of its start and wanting to make the world a better place by the time it’s done.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Black Sheep interviews Drew Goddard

Not Your Typical Cabin
An interview with THE CABIN IN THE WOODS director, Drew Goddard

You might feel like you’ve seen this one before. A mixed bag of tight-bodies and quick witted teenagers make their way to a secluded cabin in the middle of nowhere, where naturally no one will ever hear their screams for help when they inevitably get sliced up into little bits. THE CABIN IN THE WOODS may look like this movie, and on some levels, it is, but on other levels, sometimes other worldly levels, it most certainly is not.

“We just love horror movies and this just stemmed from that love,” director and co-writer, Drew Goddard, tells me just a few hours before the Canadian premiere of his first feature. “We both just wanted to write a love letter to this genre.”

The “we” Goddard is referring to is himself and a man he refers to as his “partner in crime”, Joss Whedon. Goddard and Whedon first met on Whedon’s cult classic series, "Buffy and the Vampire Slayer", and went on to work with him on the spin-off series, "Angel", as well. “We just enjoy working together and we always talked after those shows went off the air about finding something else to do.”

Working with Whedon again was like old hat for Goddard. “We like to write fast. A lot of times when you don’t have a parachute, you leap into some very interesting places. So we locked ourselves in a hotel and didn’t leave until we had a script.” When I suggest that a cabin, say, in the woods might have been more apt, Goddard replies, “I feel like we didn’t need to do any method writing.”

Whedon to the left, Goddard to the right
What sets THE CABIN IN THE WOODS apart from the torture porn one would expect from the premise, is the action behind the scenes. These teens, led by Chris Hemsworth (Thor before he became Thor) and Kristen Connolly, are being chased and tormented but by whom and for what purpose? There is a genuine reason this is all happening, something that has been sorely lacking from the horror genre for some time now. “It felt like the studios were just recycling,” Goddard explains of his motivation. “And whenever the recycling starts to happen, that’s when you want to do something new. You can feel when there is no love behind them. When people making the film don’t care, it bleeds into the audience.”

And even when there is love propelling a project like this forward, it can still be tricky to set the tone just right. “First and foremost, we want to make a real movie. This is not a parody,” Goddard explains of the delicate balance between homage, horror and humour. Fortunately, Goddard was working with an expert. “That comes a lot from Joss’s aesthetic. The trick is to get to the truth of the characters.”

The victims, I mean, cast of CABIN
Regardless of who was at his side, Goddard can now also officially call himself a director, not just the guy who wrote a bunch of episodes of some of the most beloved television shows in history - from the aforementioned "Buffy" and "Angel" to his work with another famous geek, J.J. Abrams, including "Alias" and "Lost". And while he loved directing, his next gig finds him returning to writing with the new Steven Spielberg project, ROBOPOCALYPSE. His reaction to discovering he would be working with Spielberg: “Am I dead? Is this a weird fever dream I’m having?”

First things first though, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS is finally hitting theatres after a few years on the shelf, thanks to MGM’s bankruptcy issues. And with all the buzz coming out of the film’s premiere at the SXSW festival earlier this year, I’d say it is well worth the wait. Goddard could simply not be happier. “Buzz like this is what you always hope for and yet you can’t force. You’ve gotta just make the best movie you can and hope for the best.”

Saturday, April 07, 2012


Written and Directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg
Starring Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan and Seann William Scott

I never went to my high school reunion. It wasn’t because I was so insanely popular in high school that I didn’t need to belittle myself by making an appearance. Nor was I such an incredible outcast that I would be too afraid to show my face. I was simply sick the night it was happening. One could suggest this was psychosomatic but regardless, there was no getting more than ten feet away from my washroom that night. That said, I’m not sure I would have gone even if I was feeling well. I certainly would have seriously considered it though if it meant getting a fat pay check at a point in my career when I desperately needed it. Welcome to AMERICAN REUNION.

It has been 13 years since the first AMERICAN PIE film hit theatres and announced to parents everywhere that their kids were into some weird stuff. Since that point though, things have mellowed to the point of tired, cliched monotony. Jim and Michelle (Jason Biggs and Alyson Hannigan) have gone from fun with flutes and pies to baby duty and solitary sex in separate bedrooms. And the rest of the gang isn’t doing any better. Everyone has some form of overdone problem to overcome, from issues with success to general lack of direction. There is even another boring marriage; it’s different though because they at least have sex and are still bored. Naturally, everyone needs a break from life and a trip to simpler times. There is no better cure for adult problems like resorting back into childlike behaviour and getting plastered in the process.

The reason I might have maybe made myself sick in my own head before my reunion is because I didn’t feel the need to go back there. I had moved past it and left it behind me, the good and the bad. And if I didn’t care enough to go back and see my own high school friends, I certainly saw no real reason to revisit these sad sacks. AMERICAN REUNION reeks of desperation.Their original audience is 13 years older now, and some of us have matured a little since then. Yet, the film is aimed at a much younger frame of mind because that’s the audience it wants. The trouble is that generation doesn’t even remember AMERICAN PIE in the first place. And so I left this reunion feeling exactly like I assumed I would after leaving my own - like I never should have gone in the first place.

Thursday, April 05, 2012


Written by Robert Towne
Directed by Roman Polanski
Starring Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and John Huston

Man with knife: You know what happens to nosy fellows? Huh? No? You wanna guess? Huh? No? OK. They lose their noses.
(Man with knife cuts Gittes' nose.)
Man with knife: Next time you lose the whole thing. Cut it off and feed it to my goldfish.

The last line in Roman Polanski’s CHINATOWN is perhaps one of its greatest ironies. “Forget about it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.” These words are said to Jack Nicholson’s private investigator, J.J. Gittes, just moment after his entire world comes crashing down upon him and just moments before the camera pulls up to reveal one of the most infamous closing shots in film history. The irony, of course, is CHINATOWN is completely unforgettable.

The 1974 classic, which takes place in 1937, holds up incredibly well. Polanski places the viewer at the center of the investigation, which results in an addictive need to know where every bewildering turn is going to lead. And with Nicholson’s Gittes in every single scene in the film, we as an audience are given the opportunity to watch the case he is working on unfold in real time and piece together the evidence ourselves as well. And what a case it is! Robert Towne’s Oscar winning original screenplay (the only Oscar the film won out of it’s 11 nominations) is dense, engaging and constantly shocking. While Gittes is trying desperately to stay on top of a murder case that may or may not directly involve the woman who hired him in the first place (Faye Dunaway in her prime), the city of Los Angeles is in the process of figuratively raping its farmers in pursuit of redefining its borders. It is all somehow connected and its your job to figure it all out. It might take two viewings.

The brand new blu-ray release contains some recycled extras that shed more light on the controversial Los Angeles backdrop, as well as provide some pretty candid insight into the production itself, with archived interviews from Polanski, Nicholson and Towne. New to the set is a commentary between Towne and huge fan, David Fincher. CHINATOWN is simply a must for every film fan’s collection.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Black Sheep interviews Gareth Evans

An interview with THE RAID: REDEMPTION writer/director, Gareth Evans

Don’t you hate it when movies about specific events spend so much time distracting from the task at hand with unnecessary and often insipid subplots to tug at your heart strings? When I see a movie about a bunch of highly trained police officers carrying out a violent and bloody raid on a heavily guarded gang run drug operation, I don’t want anything to take me out of the action. This is why I love THE RAID: REDEMPTION.

“I knew this film was going to focus on one event, the raid on this building,” Welsh born director, Gareth Evans (27), tells me over the phone, just as his third martial arts film is about to make a serious play at the North American market. “It’s set over the course of ten or eleven hours. It just didn’t make sense to have too many plot points or twists. It would be overwhelming.”

THE RAID relies instead on simpler elements everyone can understand - a pregnant wife at home, a crooked cop, brothers on both sides of the law - to tell its story. Rather than come across as tired though, the familiarity allows for the true star of the film, the incredible action sequences, to take center stage, where they rightfully belong. As a result, Evans is bringing Silat, a martial arts practice specific to Indonesia, where this film was made, to an international audience.

Evans on the set of THE RAID
“The thing I love about it, more than anything, is there is a certain juxtaposition with Silat,” Evans begins to explain, his voice noticeably lighter when speaking about something he so clearly loves. “The actual movement before the attack is beautiful to look at. The way they move, there is almost a rhythm and a clarity to it.” It is at this point that Evans loses his train of thought, distracted by his own passion.

Evans was introduced to Silat when he met the star of THE RAID, Iko Uwais, on the set of a documentary about the practice itself. Evans was so impressed with Uwais, that he cast him in his first film, MERANTAU, and the two have worked together since. “Iko’s way of performing Silat is moving. He understands how to perform for the camera. That’s another rare gift to have,” Evans gushes.

Uwais in THE RAID
In January, Evans begins working on the sequel to THE RAID, with Uwais at his side, of course. He then plans to make an English language film in the UK or the United States. He swears he will always come back to Indonesia to make martial arts movies though. “This is the world I want to live in as a filmmaker.”

Here is the Black Sheep review ...

Written and Directed by Gareth Evans
Starring Iko Uwais, Joe Taslim and Doni Alamsyah

Keeping it simple is what Welsh director, Gareth Evans’ Indonesian martial arts film, THE RAID: REDEMPTION has going both for it and against it at times. Rather than bothering with elaborate character development and subplots, Evans focuses his film on the task at hand, a police raid on a drug slum building. There are enough archetype elements to the story (crooked cops, brothers on both sides of the war) to form a familiar structure but the depth stops there. While this can make for a lack of attachment to any person on screen, it does allow the viewer to fully admire the brilliantly executed fight sequences, which at times are completely mesmerizing. Who needs character anyway?