Saturday, June 30, 2012


Written by Reid Carolin
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Starring Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer and Matthew McConaughey

Brooke: Entrepreneur/Stripper or stripper/entrepreneur?
Mike: Either one.
Brooke: I was hoping this was all a joke.
Mike: It is pretty funny.

Wow. MAGIC MIKE is one heck of a surprisingly great time! Perhaps I’m still in my post Channing Tatum shaking his incredibly hot stuff all over the place haze but still, who knew you could take a movie about a handful of male strippers and turn it into an insightful and oddly charming film? Steven Soderbergh and his new bro, Tatum, did, that’s who. By loosely adapting Tatum’s own experience getting wrapped up in the sexy world of all naked male revue, Soderbergh strips away all the pretense that has weighed down some of his more recent works. If Soderbergh had hair, this would be him with it down. Way down.

Alex Pettyfer plays Adam, the character who is supposed to be Tatum and who would later come to be known as The Kid. He is 19 years old, living on his sister’s (Cody Horn) couch in Tampa, Florida, and uninterested in any work that has him answering to any authority or wearing a tie. In other words, he’s lost. He meets Mike (the magic one himself, Mr. Tatum, who impresses with way more than just his perfect pecs here) on a construction site and before he knows what’s happening, he’s being shoved on stage and taking off his clothes for screaming women aplenty. Naturally, with all the ladies hooting, hollering and constantly shoving dollar bills down his G-string, The Kid takes to the lifestyle pretty quickly. Mike takes him under his wing, like a little stripper prodigy, and the two embark on a summer unlike any one I’ve ever had. You can’t have this much fun without consequence though (unless you’re just watching MAGIC MIKE, that is) and summers always inevitably turn to fall.

The beauty of Soderbergh’s work in MAGIC MIKE is that it is entirely effortless. The guys are up there having a good time and we are having just as much fun watching them. While the film does inspire plenty of cat calling from the audience though, Soderbergh is smart enough to remind us ever so subtly that it isn’t really a party if it happens every night. The Kid is only 19, after all, and even Mike has bigger dreams he’s long put on hold while chasing the easy money he makes on stage. Before it’s over, there is a shift in tone that has been slowly building the whole while, only we were far too distracted to notice. This fantastic world is exposed to be one that can free your mind but trap your soul in the process. Before you know it, you’re 30 years old, the fresh faces are gunning for you and you got nowhere else to go. This isn’t necessarily revelatory but that doesn’t matter because Soderbergh makes it feel real. And damn, it sure was fun while it lasted!

Thursday, June 28, 2012


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.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Best of Black Sheep: THE ARTIST

An interview with THE ARTIST director, Michel Hazanavicius and star, Jean Dujardin

As is ordinarily the rule during the holiday season, film audiences are inundated with grandiose family fare and a slew of prestige pictures designed to use the power of words to move people to both laughter and tears. One notable exception this year falls somewhere in the middle of this spectrum but does so without uttering a single syllable.

THE ARTIST, French director, Michel Hazanavicius’s ode to an era of cinema that has long been forgotten, will most certainly differentiate itself from the glut of awards season contenders this year, simply by being the charming delight of a film that it is. There is one other factor that will likely get everyone talking about it though; it’s silent.

As I’m sure you can imagine, getting THE ARTIST made was no easy feat. “At the very beginning, I felt very lonely because nobody wanted to make this movie,” Hazanavicius tells me when we meet at the Toronto International Film Festival, one of the many carefully chosen festival stops THE ARTIST made on its path towards tentative Oscar gold. “Now, to see so many people delighted to see the film, it’s very gratifying,” he concludes, with sincere and evident appreciation.

The idea to make a silent movie was one Hazanavicius tossed around for years and one that he is certain he is not alone in having. “It is a fantasy that I think many directors have,” he claims.  “A lot of us would love to at least try to do it. Maybe I wanted it a little bit more.” It was not until after he found success with his OSS 117 spy film series that anyone took his idea seriously though. “Once you have some success, people don’t see you the same way,” he admits. “Suddenly, something that could be insane becomes doable.”

Hazanavicius, watching the magic happen.

And so Hazanavicius enlisted the help of his OSS 117 stars, Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo (who is, incidentally, also his wife), to take on the leads in his crazy dream project. According to Hazanavicius, Bejo was on board from the start, but Dujardin was somewhat concerned when he first heard of the idea. “Yes, I thought he was crazy but Michel is incredibly hard working,” Dujardin confided to me, when we too met at this year’s TIFF. “Michel’s preparation ahead of time made everything go smooth though and he has advanced his career ten years with this film.”

Hazanavicius’s research included screening several silent films, his favorites being the American examples from the final years of the silent era (1924-1929). “I watched a lot of silent films to understand the rules and there are more rules than in a usual movie,” he explains. “In many ways though, it was more freeing. You can go places you usually don’t go because it does not have to be so realistic.”

Despite all his well researched knowledge on the subject, Hazanavicius knew that selling THE ARTIST  to mainstream audiences would not be so simple. This awareness directly influenced the story of the film. “I thought that to tell a story about a silent actor would make things easier for the audience to accept it was a silent movie,” he says of the story’s origins. In keeping with that, Dujardin plays a successful Hollywood star who falls out of favour when he refuses to acknowledge the “talkies” as anything but a passing fad.

Modern audiences might find the shift in pace to be an adjustment at first, but what makes THE ARTIST  so successful is its inherent celebration of the cinema itself. By scaling everything back, Hazanavicius reminds us what true movie magic is. The fact that he and his incredibly talented cast, which also includes John Goodman and James Cromwell, do so without any dialogue, begs the question, do today’s movies talk way too much?

“Language is very practical but it is usually just information,” Hazanavicius responds. “It’s so rich to communicate in other ways and it is too easy to just use words.” This is a sentiment that Dujardin also agrees on. “The overuse of dialogue in modern movies is just a sign of not trusting the actor’s performance. Many things can be expressed without words.”

Whether general filmgoers embrace THE ARTIST remains to be seen but at this stage, that almost seems beside the point. “The arch of this film’s journey is such a nice story,” says a very proud, Hazanavicius. “And it’s still barely beginning.”

Written and Directed by Michel Hazanavicius
Starring Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman and James Cromwell

George Valentin (on a title card): I won’t talk. I won’t say a word!

Some critics would be hard pressed to find genuine artistry in the film industry today, but they needn’t look any further than THE ARTIST, French director, Michel Hazanavicius’s homage to another era. It is a fine celebration of the cinema and the art involved in making the movies feel magical. True to the period in which it is set (Hollywood, 1927), the film is black and white, shot in the more box-y 1.33:1 aspect ratio and, perhaps most notably, the film is silent. Somehow though, without a single word uttered throughout, THE ARTIST keeps you hanging on every frame.

George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), the artist in THE ARTIST, believes the introduction of sound into film to be a gimmick, a passing fad. You and I both know how very wrong he was but he held true to the cinema’s authentic and humble origins. His refusal to grow and change with the times finds him falling out of favour with his studio and subsequently continuing to fall, only this time on hard times. Meanwhile, the woman he is in love with, actress Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo, Hazanavicius’s wife) is being swept up in the emerging success of the “talkies”. Valentin must essentially adapt or die; he must find his voice again in order to finally be heard by his public and the woman he loves. As simple as the plot is, it is its refined execution that makes the whole exercise seem effortless, allowing nothing but great warmth and passion to emanate from the screen.

It’s funny how we take things like dialogue for granted and it’s hard to believe that the movies really were like this at one point in time. As demonstrated in the film’s opening sequence, elegant theatres would be filled to capacity with patrons decked out in their finest wares, anxiously awaiting the latest screen adventures of their favorite Hollywood stars. An orchestra would not only fill the room with music but it would also fill the silence between the actors on the screen. Emotion and intention needed to be clearly communicated without speaking in order for the film to be successful. And while it may at times come off as exaggerated or false, the point was usually made. By honouring the silent film and doing it such great justice, THE ARTIST almost renders the usage of words completely pointless.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Best of Black Sheep: TAKE THIS WALTZ

Written and Directed by Sarah Polley
Starring Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, Luke Kirby and Sarah Silverman

Geraldine: Life has a big gap in it. You don’t try to fill it like a fucking lunatic.

Canadian darling, Sarah Polley’s latest directorial effort begins with such great promise. The enigmatic, Michelle Williams, with her round face and gentle demeanor, comes in and out of focus in a quaint Toronto kitchen. The sun beams in and all you can hear is the clicking of the fan rotating in the corner and a soft folk song filling the soundtrack. It’s one of those perfect mornings; her muffins are rising slowly and the whole day awaits her. As she sinks to the floor by the oven and a man’s legs brush past her, the tone is set for a truly great film. Unfortunately, it is at this point that mouths are opened, awkwardness and discomfort come out of them and TAKE THIS WALTZ begins to step all over its own feet.

Williams plays Margot, a 29-year-old writer living in Toronto. She has been married to Lou (Seth Rogen, who continues to grow and show more depth as an actor) for six years now. The two clearly love each other but their relationship has never matured from its youthful beginnings. As a result, they resort to cutesy baby talk and childish games where they each come up with creative ways to kill the other person whenever there is potential for intimacy between them. Neither one seems to notice their relationship is stinted until Margot meets a man on Prince Edward Island, of all places, while on assignment. Daniel (the charming Luke Kirby) not only ends up sitting next to her on the plane, where Margot has the chance to spill some fairly overwrought dialogue about how she fears missing connections at airports and maybe really fears fear itself, but as it turns out, Daniel also happens to live a few doors over from her in Toronto as well. It’s crazy how life can line up like that, I mean, especially when it is being written that way.

Margot’s heart becomes torn between the love she’s known for years and the possibilities presented by something new, something potentially more adult. Ordinarily, I am drawn into every emotion Williams gives us but in TAKE THIS WALTZ, I just wanted to cut in, grab her by the shoulders and shake her. Margot is an unhappy sap, who sees her marriage to a supportive man as a true burden and who portends that the path she has taken holds her back without admitting it was of her own making or doing a single thing to change it. To watch her debate the greener grass across the street from her is an exercise in great patience as she comes off as unappreciative, immature and unaware. Granted, yes, people just like Margot exist in real life but the sympathy with which Polley demands for Margot is too much to ask and Margot never does one thing to deserve it. As far as I’m concerned, Polley can have her waltz back because I don’t want it.

Saturday, June 23, 2012


Written and Directed by Lynn Shelton
Starring Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt and Mark Duplass

Jack: You’re out of the cage now, my friend. If you’re gonna fucking fly, you’re gonna start with a steak!

Have you ever been out to a lake? It’s peaceful, simple, and often so tranquil that you can just let your mind drift away into a rare state of relaxation. Heck, you might even learn a thing or two about yourself, if you’re open to it. This is the exact tone that independent film director, Lynn Shelton, strives for and achieves with great success in her latest insightful laugher, YOUR SISTER’S SISTER. Well, the simplicity, she gets; the tranquility, not so much. Either way, an engaging and endearing experience, much like a weekend away from the busier and louder mainstream fare we’re all accustomed to. In many ways, it is also a necessary break as well.

Reportedly made for just $125,000, YOUR SISTER’S SISTER was conceived as an improvisational experiment of sorts. Three people, all with varying degrees of issues with themselves and each other to work out, end up at a quaint cottage unexpectedly all at once. Two of these people are sisters, Iris and Hannah, played by Emily Blunt and Rosemarie Dewitt (who replaced Rachel Weisz when she had to drop out of the project). One of these people is Jack (Mark Duplass, who also rocks the indie scene in SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED). Jack lost his brother, who incidentally happened to be Iris’s ex-boyfriend, a year prior and has yet to reenter the world of the living. After Jack drunkenly sleeps with Hannah, who happens to be a lesbian just out of a 7-year relationship, it becomes as clear as a lake at dawn that matters have become fairly complicated for this trio.

YOUR SISTER’S SISTER is as contemplative and as rustic as you’d expect a movie about a trip to the lake to be. Shelton captures a candid intimacy that is increasingly rare these days. The video aesthetic may not always do the picturesque nature full justice but it also doesn’t let the actors get away with anything either. True to the essence of improv, these three actors cannot let there be silence for too long and inevitably fill the spaces with whatever comes to mind. Their combined talent is undeniable and without their finely honed instincts, this film would be the worst weekend away ever. And while the complexities that surface throughout their time away may be too easily worked out in the end, this does nothing to detract from what a fascinating exercise in introspection the time away provides.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Written and Directed by Lorene Scafaria
Starring Steve Carrell, Keira Knightley and Martin Sheen

Penny: What is it about the end of the world that brings them all out of the woodworks?

SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD gives new meaning to the term, “Disaster Movie”. Within moments of the film’s opening, it is announced that the world is coming to its inevitable end. This piece of information would ordinarily be pretty crushing, given that one of the very few things we all share in common is that we live on this planet. But the world that first time feature filmmaker, Lorene Scafaria (writer of NICK & NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST), is not like any world I know at all. In fact, it is so unfamiliar that I ended up feeling nothing instead. A society that feels so false cannot possibly inspire any genuine emotion.

When the news hits that an asteroid will collide and destroy Earth, and that all attempts to avoid this fate have failed, Dodge (Steve Carrell) is sitting in a parked car with his wife (played by Carrell’s real life wife, Nancy). She opens her door, gets out of the car, and without even looking in her husband’s direction, she takes off as fast as she can through a park. Dodge does not follow. He is devastated but what is he to do? Clearly, all the rules have changed now that there are only weeks to live. This is not so clear to everyone though. As Dodge walks around in a stupor, albeit an understandable one, he is surrounded by people who still go to work, go to the gym and go to dinner parties where annoying friends try to set them up on dates. It all felt so unnatural to me that I often wanted to yell at the screen to remind them all that the world was in fact coming to an end and they didn’t have time for all this stupidity.

Carrell is a great actor, capable of balancing sadness and comedy quite well, as is evidenced in films like, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE and DAN IN REAL LIFE, and he does his best here to keep SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD alive long enough for anyone to care the apocalypse is still coming. Sadly, this disaster proves too big of a match for him. It certainly doesn’t help him any that he is paired opposite Keira Knightley, who, while lovely, is thoroughly mismatched opposite Carrell. Embarking on their road trip to help Dodge find his childhood sweetheart is uncomfortable and awkward to say the least. I would never in a million years choose to spend my final days on Earth with these two. It was hard enough to spend an hour and a half with them.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Written by Allison Burnett
Directed by Heitor Dalia
Starring Amanda Seyfried, Jennifer Carpenter and Wes Bentley

When Jill comes home from her night job at a diner, she finds her sister not at home. After doing a thorough search of the house, she determines that her sister has been taken. This is a scenario she knows all too well, since she herself was taken, thrown down a hole and almost murdered the previous year. Convinced the same man has come back for her, but accidentally got the wrong girl, she goes to the police. The problem is they don’t believe her. With no assistance from the authorities and time running out, Jill takes matters into her own hands to save her sister’s life.

GONE is an interesting take on the serial killer genre. Keeping the audience in the dark about the true crime being committed here, while also expecting them to invest in a character who is very likable and has clear, seemingly unclouded motives is an excellent device. Amanda Seyfried is one of the few young female actresses today who would have been able to portray a character that lies her way through an investigation, but makes the audience believe her story. The remainder of the supporting cast seems to have been put together for maximum impact at the box office. Wes Bentley is in the film for only a few brief moments and plays a non-pivotal role, while Jennifer Carpenter plays a slightly more important part, but is in the film for an equally short period of time.

In the end this is a great thriller and a solid entry into the serial killer genre. While this isn’t a ‘must see’ for everyone, it should definitely be on the list for horror/thriller fans. GONE is available on DVD now.

Written by Trista DeVries
Toronto Film Scene

Review copy provided by eOne Entertainment.

Monday, June 18, 2012


Directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman
Written by Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman and Irene Mecchi
Voices by Kelly McDonald, Emma Thompson and Billy Connolly

Princess Merida: If you had a chance to change your fate, would you?

Not surprisingly in the least, Pixar’s 13th animated feature, BRAVE, is breathtaking from the very beginning. The sprawling Scottish highlands are already beautiful in their natural state but when Pixar uses their imagination and technical ability to recreate something, that place is reborn anew on screen. Ordinarily, they have the same ability to reinvigorate even the oldest of stories and this time around, they take aim at the very familiar princess archetype and while they do make BRAVE into an altogether compelling and rousing coming of age tale, I’m not sure I would call it an altogether brave effort.

Princess Merida (voiced by Kelly McDonald, who replaced Reese Witherspoon when she couldn’t do it, thank God) has always been more interested in playing with swords instead of playing with boys. Her father, King Fergus (Billy Connolly), encourages her while her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), strives every day to make her into a proper princess. In order to maintain the order of the land, Merida must marry one of the first born princes from the neighboring kingdoms, but Merida is adamant about not wanting to be any part of this. In fact, this is what Merida is best at, knowing what she doesn’t want as opposed to knowing what she does. This is why, when she pays a mysterious (and hilarious) witch to change her fate, she isn’t the least bit specific about how exactly she would like it to be changed. And so it is altered, but the question becomes, is this new path any better than the old one she was on or is it actually worse? And worse still, can Merida even make it back to her true path now that she’s embarked on this one?

BRAVE is efficiently told without a trace of fat to be found. And while there are no unnecessary distractions as a result, the whole thing feels a tad rushed and bit slight considering the pedigree putting it out there. That said, Pixar’s best efforts (especially for a film that changed directing hands, and subsequently changed direction drastically, half way through) do elevate BRAVE far past its minor shortcomings to be extremely enjoyable and exciting. Merida should stand strong and proud in the long line of great Pixar characters. She shows us and herself that our fates are living and breathing inside of us at all times; we need only be brave enough to see them and embrace them.

Be sure not to miss Black Sheep's interview with BRAVE director, Mark Andrews.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

My Top 5 Pixar Films

This month, Pixar Animation Studios will release its 13th feature film, BRAVE. To mark the occasion, I give you my Top 5 favourite Pixar films. Aside from the CARS films, I'm a big fan of all the Pixar pictures, so it was tricky to narrow it down to five but when it came down to it, I knew these were my Top 5 all along.

In alphabetical order, they are ...


Pixar's first Academy Award winner for Best Animated Feature was also their first bonafide worldwide smash. Sure, they had success with all four of their previous releases but not compared to the staggering heights FINDING NEMO just kept swimming toward. I have been dying to watch it again for some time now but I am waiting for the 3D rerelease expected later this year to dive into this ocean one more time. Once you find yourself immersed in these uncertain, and breathtaking waters, the magic of Pixar, and director, Andrew Stanton, takes over. Waves of laughter, suspense, heartbreak and immense joy crash over you throughout the experience. In fact, it's so good, you kinda almost wish Nemo would stay lost just a little longer so you could stay under water that much for a few more minutes.


I will freely admit that the first time I saw THE INCREDIBLES, from Pixar genius, Brad Bird, I missed large chunks of it because I was on a date and reasonably distracted. In all fairness, I was torn. Through the corners of my eyes, I could see that this was one, well, incredible piece of filmmaking. What I love about this film, aside from the phenomenal animation work, which goes without saying practically for all Pixar features, is how it skates so perfectly between the spy genre and a family film. It is as intense as any James Bond picture, with action sequences that put some big budget live action films to great shame, but it still has that unmistakable Pixar heart that makes it unforgettable. The only thing I don't get about it, is why we have not yet seen Mr. Incredible and family get the sequel they so rightfully deserve.


They said Pixar was crazy for putting rats in a kitchen and expecting people to show up in droves but they were wrong! Well, mostly anyway. RATATOUILLE had a hard time hitting the same success as some previous Pixar outings but like fine dining, this dish is just not for all. Those who love it though, and there are certainly many, know that this is one of Bird's finest works. The unlikely friendship between Remy, the rat, and Linguini, the chef, shows us that we should always dream and that sometimes, we need others to help make the loftiest of our dreams come true. The visual style of this Paris-set masterpiece is exhilarating and intensely well orchestrated; it demonstrates at all times just how much care Pixar puts into every frame. Like the critic in the film, feasting on this dish always makes me feel like a child again.

THE TOY STORY TRILOGY (1995, 1999, 2010)

By now, we can all acknowledge that Pixar redefined the notion of family film when they released their first feature, TOY STORY, in 1995. Not only did they give the world the first fully computer animated feature but they also reworked the genre so that the films that came after it would play, or at least attempt to play, to both parents and kids alike. And as audiences flocked to the experience, they quickly realized that this new style of animation was actually amazing to behold, and not clunky or limited as some believed it would be. The first sequel would break records around the world and by the time they got to the third film, by far the most accomplished and surprising in the series, Pixar had also shown the world that sequels, even the ones we don't think are necessary, can and should have great purpose. 

WALL-E (2008)

My heart melts every time I see WALL-E. Firstly, he is by far my favourite Pixar character. By the sheer nature of his being a robot, he is limited in his capacity to feel and show emotion but somehow, he exudes more love than most of the human beings I know or see on screen. His courtship with the beautiful EVE was so simple - all he wanted was to hold her hand really - and yet it was also so incredibly moving. In fact, it got me feeling things I forgot I knew how to feel. It also had me in total awe for the first half of the film, which is essentially silent. It was such a bold move to remove almost every trace of dialogue from a family film that it could only have been made and pulled off by Pixar. Some argue that the film loses focus once talking is reintroduced into the film but I would argue that those people just wish they feel as purely and as honestly as WALL-E does.

What's your favourite Pixar movie? Vote in the Black Sheep poll! (Top right corner of the page)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Black Sheep Interviews Mark Andrews

An interview with BRAVE director, Mark Andrews

Who would have ever thought that the studio who brought you rats in kitchens, robots in space and monsters in closets would be considered brave for telling a princess story? Yet, here we are. Pixar Animation Studios is set to release their 13th feature length animated film, BRAVE, this month, and all anyone can seem to focus on is the fact that for the first time in Pixar history, the protagonist is a girl.

“It is weird,” BRAVE director, Mark Andrews, tells me when I ask him if the attention his main character’s gender is garnering, is at all strange to him. “It’s not like we have a big dry erase board that says, ‘Pixar films until 2025: Girl picture, giraffe picture, something in Saudi Arabia!’ If we focused on that aspect, on marketing, on what we haven’t done, then we would be playing to that instead of playing to the strengths of the character and the story.”

These particular strengths are what Pixar has come to be known for and this can be at least in part attributed to their incredibly organic attention to detail. “We are more focused on building something from the ground up instead of hitting some bar or some expectation,” Andrews tells me of the Pixar philosophy, when we meet at Toronto’s Casa Loma, during the BRAVE press tour. “We’re still very much in the canon of Pixar, which is to say you’re going to get something where you don’t really know what to expect, but trust us, its gonna be good.”

The film had just screened, to great fanfare, for Toronto audiences the night before. Naturally, Andrews wore a kilt to the event. In what is now a great Pixar tradition, a number of the film’s animators, along with Andrews, spent a couple of weeks in and around the highlands of Scotland to take in the scenery. Andrews considers this research pilgrimage to be invaluable if you want to get out of your head. “You have to go, you have to touch everything to get here,” Andrews motions toward his heart at this point. “And once I get here, then I can get it on to a page or into a painting or tell somebody else about it because I can give them these details to hold on to. You get to the character of it all.”

Andrews, hard at work
The character everyone is talking about is Merida, a red-haired fireball of a character, as bullheaded as she is fearless and forward thinking. Not only is Merida, voiced in the film by BOARDWALK EMPIRE's Kelly McDonald, the first Pixar girl but she’s also a princess at that. “Disney’s done the princess, y’know, a lot,” Andrews jokes boisterously. “We knew we had a princess. It serves the story and raises the stakes but we knew we were making an anti-princess. She’s everything a princess is not.”

Taking on a princess in a long line of princesses, while still making sure to make the character modern and relatable to today’s crowd, meant tweaking the formula a little. “Being a princess and being a woman are very different things. It’s not this old adage that you have to be saved, that you have to fall in love to be complete,” Andrews states with the pride of a father. “Merida’s not questing for happily ever after. She’s discovering who she is and how she fits into this world, on her own terms.”

Merida marches to her own beat
And so even though I began all of this by pointing out how odd it is that there is so much focus on Pixar first’s in BRAVE (add first fairy tale and period piece to the list while you’re at it), as opposed to the film itself, Andrews is happy for the attention nonetheless. “I kinda like that everyone is gravitating to the specifics about the film so that when they see it, they’re going to see it’s so much more than just a picture about a girl.”

Thursday, June 14, 2012


Written by Derek Connolly
Directed by Colin Trevorrow
Starring Aubrey Plaza, Jake M. Johnson, Karan Soni and Mark Duplass

Darius: There’s no sense in nonsense, especially when the heat’s hot.

Whether you’re spending your time running away from it or whether you’re constantly obsessing over every tiny detail from it, the past inevitably leaves its mark on everyone. Of course, there are also those who take it all one step further and build elaborate and unstable time machines from whatever parts they can piece together at their disposal. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED is about that guy. Well, it’s about more than that but more importantly, it is also one of the simplest and most sincere indie comedies I’ve seen in some time.

In the mid 90’s, a classified ad was placed in an issue of Backwoods Home magazine, enlisting assistance for a time travel experiment. The ad asserts that the man placing it has successfully traveled back in time already but that subsequent trips cannot include a safety guarantee. It is clear that whoever placed it had to be a colorful character but so would the person who would answer an ad like that have to be. This is what inspired novice screenwriter, Derek Connolly, to write his first screenplay. By having three journalists - well, one lazy as all hell journalist (The New Girl’s Jake M. Johnson) and two overworked interns (Parks and Recreation’s Aubrey Plaza and relative newcomer, Karan Soni) - investigate the ad and subsequently the man behind it (Mark Duplass, half of the directing team behind CYRUS and JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME), all the characters have to come to terms with where they are in their lives by acknowledging their pasts and how they’ve written them in their minds.

Of course the implication of the title is that going back in time, or facing the past if you will, is potentially hazardous to your health. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED may be slight in its scope but under the direction of first time feature filmmaker, Colin Trevorrow, the entire cast brings their own depth to their characters, making for a pretty warm and endearing movie. You never know where its going to go next but wherever it brings you, you can rest assure it will be a surprisingly funny and realistically touching place. If only the future could provide that same guarantee, right?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Written by David F. Shamoon
Directed by Agnieszka Holland
Starring Robert Wieckiewicz

Clocking in at 144 minutes, EUROPA EUROPA director, Agnieszka Holland’s latest, and Best Foreign Language Oscar nominee, IN DARKNESS, is no easy journey to endure, especially if you have any difficulty with dark, cramped spaces. This is the story of what are now known as Socha’s Jews, a group of less than a dozen people who hid in the sewers during WWII in Lviv, Poland. Leopold Socha (played on film by Robert Wieckiewicz), a sanitation worker, helped them at first for money, but as time progressed, 13 months of time, he comes to know a more humane side of himself. By taking to the sewers, Holland has crafted a frank, honest look at humanity’s ugliest period.

Saturday, June 09, 2012


Written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof
Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender and Charlize Theron

David: Sometimes to create, one must first destroy.

The ship which Ridley Scott’s latest foray into outer space is named for, PROMETHEUS, is itself named after a Greek god. In case you’re unfamiliar, this particular God is not only credited with the creation of man, from clay no less, but also with providing mankind with fire and the possibility of progress. The trouble is he had to steal the fire in the first place and so his deed would need to be punished. Aside from eternal torment and torture, Prometheus would also be forever known as a symbol for overreaching and the often unfortunate consequences of doing so. There is only one person doing any overreaching on this ship though and that’s the director. Not to mention, it would seem to me that naming an exploratory space ship thus would just be more of a subconscious effort to sabotage your chances for success than anything else.

PROMETHEUS opens with stunning shots of landscapes and waterfalls and culminates in a bizarre spectacle that announces the possibility of a truly unique and breathtaking film experience. It then moves rather quickly into all too familiar territory. Type on the screen dictates the time and place of the mission, while people are asleep in pods on the ship, and an android watches carefully over them with some potentially questionable motivation. There were months of speculation but now there is no denying that this is an alien movie, somehow connected to Scott’s seminal 1979 film, ALIEN. It isn’t made clear just how at first but it certainly follows exactly the same pattern as his original film, as well as James Cameron’s sequel, ALIENS. After everyone wakes up, they pal around in the cafeteria; the ship’s authorities have money on their minds at all times; disposable crew members are picked off in small increments; heck, there are even things that pop out of stomachs and girls in tiny, objectifying briefs. The technology allows the film to look fresh and updated but the familiarity left me wondering if I was watching a remake and also why no one told me ahead of time.

So, once you realize PROMETHEUS is an ALIEN movie, the question becomes is it actually a good ALIEN movie? It is, to some extent, if you consider the word “alien” to mean beings from outer space and not the specific ones from the original film. Go in expecting them and you will be disappointed. That said, I can’t guarantee you won’t be disappointed if you go in not expecting them either. We wait to see what all the fuss is about for a good hour, and marvel at its beauty, because PROMETHEUS is nothing if not beautiful, but by the time the action comes, we have been waiting for it for so long that it almost feels forced. And I know that genre pics like this warrant all secrecy but the fact is that the spoiler moments in this film almost spoiled it completely for me. There are moments that are just too hard to believe or too sadistic to be taken seriously. Some of these moments are too hard to truly recover from even. Scott may know aliens but he doesn’t seem to know much about creating credible human beings here.

PROMETHEUS is co-written by LOST alumni, Damon Lindelof (along with relative newcomer Jon Spaihts). Like in the popular television series, Lindelof again attempts to tackle ideas about where we came from and where we’re going. And once again, he provides vague musings about our nature that truly only beg more questions. Hence the reason any characters left at the end of the film are only left with one question on their minds; why is this happening? Naturally, they must find out and so PROMETHEUS seems destined to continue its quest, which, while noble in intention, is really nothing more than a setup for a sequel. With that, PROMETHEUS the film reveals its true mission is not so dissimilar to that of the ship. Profit at any expense is always more important than understanding humanity.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Black Sheep interviews David Cronenberg & Robert Pattinson

An interview with COSMOPOLIS writer/director, David Cronenberg and star, Robert Pattinson

When a director is as prolific as David Cronenberg is as of late, it is not uncommon to end up interviewing them more than once in the same year for different projects. I had spoken with Cronenberg earlier this year when A DANGEROUS METHOD had its Canadian release and with this week’s release of COSMOPOLIS, I found myself face to face with the icon for the second time in six months. Somehow I had completely forgotten that the man is way more amusing than I would ever expect him to be.

“I used a little Apple program called iDirector,” Cronenberg announces of his COSMOPOLIS process. “A little green light goes on if its ok and a red light if you need another take.” See what I mean? The man is hilarious.

There is nothing funny about the premise of COSMOPOLIS though. Based on the 2003 Don DeLillo novel of the same name, Cronenberg’s 20th feature film recounts protagonist, Eric Packer’s day long quest to get across Manhattan for a haircut from his regular barber. It sounds silly on the surface but it is set against the backdrop of the collapse of capitalism, making the film both timely and incredibly tense.

As complex as the story is though, Cronenberg had very little trouble adapting the book into a screenplay. “I literally transcribed all the dialogue [from the novel] and put it into screenplay form. Then I looked at it and asked, ‘Is this a movie or not?’ And it was.” The entire process took him all of six days to accomplish. His extensive experience allows for this kind of efficiency. “Now that I’ve adapted a few things, I’ve accepted the rule of thumb that there are some things that you just can’t do in movies that you can easily do in novels, and vice versa. The things that didn’t work or that I couldn’t make work, I just left out.”

Pattinson on the streets of Toronto, made to look like NYC
One of the things that does work in the film is its star, the infamous Robert Pattinson, whom was also on hand for the COSMOPOLIS Canadian press tour. This is the first collaboration between the two super powers and already rumoured not to be the last, with Pattinson lined up for another unconfirmed Cronenberg project to be shot in France. The secret to their success? “I was in the very obvious throes of a panic attack. I guess its part of my process where I feel like I have to go through the motions of feeling like I’m having a heart attack,” Pattinson admits, wearing his anxiety like a second skin. “David got me to stop worrying. Although, he may have just been placating me until I came around.”

Pattinson was not originally supposed to play Packer, a tycoon loathed the world over for simply being rich and good at it. The role was first given to Colin Farrell but when he dropped out due to scheduling conflicts, Cronenberg rewrote the script for a younger actor (which is more authentic to the book anyway) and immediately thought of Pattinson. The last minute casting change did not leave much time for Pattinson to prepare though.

Cronenberg directs Pattinson
“I was not going to come up with a completely original interpretation of DeLillo in two weeks. That’s completely ridiculous,” states Pattinson, when pressed about how he came up with the character so quickly. “There’s something about the construction in DeLillo’s writing that is so easy, you don’t need to add anything to it. That’s the direction David encouraged me in.”

Cronenberg didn’t just encourage this loyalty to the word on the page, he insisted on it. “In general, I don’t want the actors to be screenwriters. They’re not designed for that,” Cronenberg quips, without the least bit of insult to actors at all. “If everybody is improvising and you have actors who are used to doing that with each other, that’s a whole other thing. Basically, I want them to stick to the script but within that, there are tons of things an actor can bring to it.”

Pattinson kicking back and letting Cronenberg steal the show at the Toronto press conference.
The remaining cast of COSMOPOLIS is made up of many familiar Canadian faces, including Jay Baruchel, Emily Hampshire, Kevin Durand and Sarah Gadon. The film was shot in and around Toronto, from Yonge and Bloor to Union Station to Geary Avenue in the wee hours of the morning. Once again, Toronto is made to look like New York City, something that COSMOPOLIS has been criticized for not doing as well as it could have. “Somebody had said to me that there aren’t even any New York landmarks in the film but there aren’t any in the book either. In fact, a lot of the places, actually almost all of them that are mentioned in the book, are gone,” Cronenberg says, in response to this criticism. “So even if we were shooting in New York, it would have looked like it did, I have to say.”

As the capitalism capitol of the civilized world, the story had to be set in Manhattan. And with as much global unrest as there is these days, COSMOPOLIS couldn’t hit at a more opportune time. Be warned though occupiers, while the film depicts the demise of the financial world as we know it, it doesn’t do it how you would think. “There are no anti-capitalist characters in the movie, even though you might think it is an anti-capitalist creed on some level,” Cronenberg declares. “It’s really more pro-capitalist with people just wishing they were in on the action.”

Pattinson with co-star, Paul Giamatti
While typical fare for Cronenberg, COSMOPOLIS is not what your average Twihard (that is what they call themselves, right?) would ordinarily see. Pattinson still thinks they will like it though. “I like this script the same way I liked the TWILIGHT scripts. I’m not a post-modernist scholar,” Pattinson begins to explain but at this point, Cronenberg cuts him off.

“Your agent said you were,” he says, dryly and without missing a beat. Suddenly everyone is laughing again and the interview is over. With chemistry like that, who knows? Maybe Pattinson will be the new Mortensen.