Thursday, August 30, 2012

Black Sheep does TV: GLEE Season 3


Do you know what I like most about watching an entire season of GLEE from start to finish on Blu-ray? It’s simple really. It is so much easier to enjoy this grand production of a television series in sequence rather than week to week and with giant gaps between episodes. When it airs on television, there is so much pressure for GLEE to deliver to its audience the way it did when it first aired. It’s time for Gleeks everywhere to just accept that this is never going to happen. And while the glory days of GLEE may be behind them, the show has found a comfortable stride by bringing on staff writers this season, which allowed for almost every character to grow in unexpected ways.

Gone are the days of fake pregnancies and scandalous inter-glee club mix and mingling. New Directions is now three years old and many of the crew will graduate at the end of the school year. While graduation calculatedly divides the kids for the future of the series, it does also provide many an opportunity for the seniors to contemplate their lofty and ambiguous futures. Allow me to assure you that these futures are not easily attained for any single one of them, whether that’s because some of them are flunking or whether that’s because some of them genuinely have no idea what to do with their lives. They may break out into song at many random moments but graduation allowed GLEE to get very real this year.

One of the major contributing factors to GLEE’s successful turnaround (after a widely disliked second season) is the elimination of the constant bickering between the kids. Everybody more or less gets along this year and subsequently have their own individual journeys to follow. Without the petty fighting to distract them, they found their focus in a common goal - winning nationals, of course. Even when a chunk of the female glee kids defected and formed a competing glee club, everyone still more or less got along. It’s a maturity I didn’t expect from GLEE and, by the time the season ends, and all the kids are faced with their own personal new directions in life, it is easy to see how much the creators respect their characters and want to see them enter the world.

The third season of GLEE tackles topics as varied as losing your virginity (“The First Time”), parental career pressure (“Asian F”) and the dangers of texting and driving (“On My Way”). These are all topics that apply directly to teenagers and I commend GLEE for dealing with issues that these kids would really face. It may not be as sensational or scandalous as it once was but this new approach bodes much better for GLEE’s own future. Now all they have to do is knock off all those tribute episodes. I mean, “Saturday Night Glee-ver”? C’mon now.

My addiction to buying every single GLEE song released subsided this year and I became much more selective but that doesn’t mean there weren’t plenty of numbers worth celebrating. I ask you to indulge my own inner gleek right now as I present my personal playlist of my favorite songs from GLEE Season 3 ...

GLEE Season 3 is now available on DVD & Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

Monday, August 27, 2012


An interview with FOR A GOOD TIME, CALL ... stars, Ari Graynor and Lauren Miller

For a good time, check out FOR A GOOD TIME, CALL ... starring Ari Graynor and Lauren Miller. For an even better time, spend any amount of time with these two ladies in person. I cannot remember the last interview I went to where there was so much laughter to sift through when it came time to transcribe it.

FOR A GOOD TIME, CALL ... (directed by Toronto’s own, Jamie Travis) tells the story of two unlikely and reluctant friends who are forced by circumstance to live together, and who find harmony in their lives by launching a successful phone sex line. The premise is based, and loosely I must add, on Miller’s experience with her college roommate, and co-writer of this screenplay, Katie Anne Naylon. The twosome were frightened to tackle their first feature initially but their history together got them through it.

“Obviously starting out to write any script, no matter how many scripts you’ve written before, is daunting,” Miller recounts, when we meet at Trump Hotel in Toronto. “You’re like, I need to come up with what? And it’s a hundred and how many pages? It’s daunting no matter what, but to have your friend with you, especially one who is as funny and creative as Katie, it’s easier.”

Miller will also admit to one other factor that made the writing process somewhat simpler. “Also, we cheated. We wrote a story loosely based on ourselves. I don’t know if that’s officially cheating but it certainly made things easier.”

Miller and Graynor prepare to take a call
Graynor, along with other high profile personalities like Seth Rogen, Kevin Smith and Justin Long, came to be in the movie after Miller and Naylon wrote her what they call a “love letter to get all these talented people to come play with us.” After playing memorable supporting parts in films like NICK & NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST and CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER, this was a chance for Graynor to take the lead, and one that spearheads women on screen at that.

“First and foremost, the biggest goal we had when it came to making this was to tell an honest, truthful, loving account of female friendship, that wasn’t competitive, that wasn’t based in jealousy, that wasn’t one girl and her sassy best friend on the search for the guy next door,” Graynor explains of one of the bigger draws for her in the script. Then of course, there is also the phone sex.

Graynor and Miller with director, Travis
“With the phone sex element, we allowed it to get a little fantastical because we wanted it to be funny first and not sexually titillating,” Graynor describes of how the film handles its raunchier elements, of which there are many. Miller continues the point, “The movie is obviously not a documentary about phone sex. It was about pushing the world that we were creating. For example, if we were going to have an accountant, what would an account in this world do or say?”

By the way, the answer to that question is call in his secretary to come clean up for him after he’s finished his call to the girls. Yes, they went there. Miller speaks on the film’s defense, “There were some things that pushed too far and that’s why you show your movie to friends and you have screenings. The movie does ride a fine line but I don’t think we ever cross it.”

Graynor and Miller with co-star, Long
FOR A GOOD TIME, CALL ...  also shows the more intimate, more personal side to phone sex. “It shows the two sides of phone sex really well,” Graynor states proudly.  “There is an element of it that you can see as a way to hide, it’s a way to create a fantasy. Certainly for movie Katie, and for real Katie, when she did phone sex in college, it’s a place to find a sense of confidence, which was not found at all in real life. And yet, it’s also a way to be intimate in this world of online porn and webcams.”

These are the things you can explore when you’re making a movie independently, without having to answer to anyone other than yourself. To some extent, you can tell the two are still somewhat surprised they made it through. “We fully recognize that this doesn’t happen,” Miller describes of her exaltation. “Making an independent movie is about dreaming big and not taking no for an answer. We just kept pushing and pushing and got really lucky.”

And Miller and Graynor, yet again
Graynor takes it even further and suggests that this movie needed to be made independently to be done right. “There was a lot of fat that we had to trim simply because we didn’t have the time or money to shoot everything. It’s actually one of those by-product gifts of independent filmmaking. You do it the way you want to, and this actually leads to, in many ways, a smarter movie.”

Miller agrees and concludes, “It’s just craziness. I’m still pinching myself every day.”

I’m about to ask where she’s pinching herself but then I remember, I’m not on the phone.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


Written by David Koepp and John Camps
Directed by David Koepp
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon

Wilee: I like to ride. Fixed gear. No brakes. Can't stop. Don't want to, either.

It may not be premium on any level but there is still plenty of rush to be had with David Koepp’s latest, PREMIUM RUSH. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a spry and sweaty bike messenger named Wilee - like the coyote, seriously. As he barrels down the busy streets of Manhattan at speeds reaching upwards of 50 miles per hour, you cannot help but feel your pulse accelerate at comparable speeds. At any moment, he could be run off the road, be smashed by oncoming traffic or worst of all, not make it to his delivery destination on time (gasp). And with all those endorphins pumping throughout this 90-minute thriller, it is easy to ignore how ridiculous it truly is.

To be clear, I mean ridiculous in the most complimentary sense of the word. The premise of PREMIUM RUSH is entirely beside the point, which is really just to focus on the extreme biking. Wilee is a premium rush junkie of sorts. He doesn’t ride with brakes on his bike; in fact, he considers them to be killers. He picks up an ordinary delivery from an acquaintance and is about to begin making his way downtown when he is stopped by a menacing man, played by Michael Shannon. Shannon wants what Gordon-Levitt is delivering; Gordon-Levitt won’t let it go; the chase begins from there. Koepp throws in a few other distractions, like a love interest and a crooked cop subplot, to keep it lively, but nothing takes away too much from the central race toward the finish line that Gordon-Levitt is desperately trying to win. It is as simple as it could be but it is this very simplicity that allows it to be so intensely satisfying.

The trick that Koepp has figured out here is to just go all in. PREMIUM RUSH is an exhilarating bike messenger chase flick and was never meant to be taken seriously. It’s meant to have a little fun with and that is exactly what Koepp is doing here. From the constant Google map inspired progress reports on where our hero currently is, to the shifts in both perspective between characters and in time and place, Koepp is playing up anything he can to heighten the tension. Sealing this deal though is the often hysterical and almost at times surreal performances by Gordon-Levitt and Shannon. They appear as if they are delighting in every single contrived word that comes out of their mouthes and, as a result, we are eager to take part in that very same delight. To be truly enjoyed, you just need to give in and let PREMIUM RUSH just rush right over you, in all its ridiculous splendor.


Written by Nick Cave
Directed by John Hillcoat
Starring Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska and Guy Pearce

Maggie: Ain’t that just like you, to believe your own goddamn legend?

LAWLESS, John Hillcoat’s follow up to the quiet and haunting post-apocalyptic contemplation, THE ROAD, is in many ways, the direct opposite of that film. While it is often just as visually interesting, it is a much louder film than his last. LAWLESS oscillates between the kind of quiet moments one expects from a prohibition-era period piece and the kind of roaring gunfire one expects from a mobster film from the same period. It boasts an unbelievable cast of actors but sadly even they cannot breathe life into this surprisingly drab film. For all its pedigree, LAWLESS is simply far from flawless.

Based on the true account of the Bondurant brothers, as chronicled by descendant, Matt Bondurant, in his novel, “The Wettest County in the World”, and adapted by singer/songwriter, Nick Cave, LAWLESS focuses most of its attention on the runt of the litter, Jack. Jack is played played by the guy who coincidentally also has the most to prove in this project, Shia LaBeouf, who steps away from big budget blockbusters and toward bigger budget indies instead. To make this point abundantly clear, which Hillcoat does again and again with many of the film’s failed attempts at subtlety, LAWLESS opens with a young Jack being taunted by his older brothers as he struggles to catch the runt of a pig litter on their farm. LaBeouf catches the metaphorical pig and demonstrates his potential for meatier fare as his career continues, but when you’re acting opposite the likes of Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska, your best isn’t necessarily good enough.

LAWLESS is also relentlessly violent and entirely unapologetic about the whole thing. As Jack escalates his brothers’ bootlegging operation in the face of mounting corruption amongst the police, a war is waged and it isn’t a pretty one. The question becomes what is anyone actually fighting for though. Every character, save for Jack once he gets a taste of success, is cold and dispassionate. When they pick up their guns, no one has any concern for human life, be that their own or any one else’s. There is rarely ever a moment of joy on any one face and this rampant lifelessness leaves the impression that all of this violence is simply unnecessary. As a result, LAWLESS is left rather listless.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Written and Directed by Guillaume Canet
Starring Marion Cotillard, Francois Cluzet and Jean Dujardin

Ordinarily, when we think about the lies we tell, they are usually the ones we tell others. We don’t often stop to take a hard look at the lies we tell ourselves though. French actor/director, Guillaume Canet’s LITTLE WHITE LIES, his first film since his international hit, TELL NO ONE, is here to ensure we finally turn that mirror inward. Every summer, Max (Francois Cluzet) invites his friends, including Marion Cotillard, to his country home to vacation. When one of the gang gets into a serious accident right before the trip is to take place, the remaining members can’t seem to keep up their facades any longer. While this may not make for a very pleasant summer, it does make for an awful lot of solid drama.

Monday, August 20, 2012


Written by Christopher D. Ford
Directed by Jake Schreier
Starring Frank Langella, James Marsden, Liv Tyler, Susan Sarandon and Peter Sarsgaard

Robot: Hi Frank. It’s a pleasure to meet you.
Frank: How do you know?

As I understand it, aging can be an isolating and confusing time for many, especially when it seems that life has forgotten you and left you to finish out your years alone. When you are retired from work and your family has moved on to families of their own, purpose can be difficult to find. Frank (played by Frank Langella) knows this better than most. He was once a loving husband and father to two vibrant children. He was also once a jewel thief but even jewel thieves eventually get too old to break into homes in the middle of the night.  Fortunately, loneliness, one of mankind’s oldest afflictions, has finally found a solution thanks to the unlikeliest of places - modern technology.

ROBOT AND FRANK, the directorial debut by Jake Schreier, takes place in what appears to be the not-so-distant future. Life is pretty much recognizable in Frank’s world but slight differences pop up here and there so we know it isn’t quite the world you and I know today. The biggest of these tiny nuances would definitely have to be the robots. Frank has just gotten his from his son (James Marsden) to assist with his daily needs. Living all on his own, Frank neglects to clean up after himself or eat properly. The robot, voiced with tranquility and patience by Peter Sarsgaard, is not only there so that his son doesn’t have to make the long trek up from the city each week to make sure Frank is taking care of himself, but also to keep Frank company. Naturally, Frank resists the robot at first, but once he sees how the robot can help him get back to his thieving ways, the two become fast friends.

At the end of the day, a robot is incapable of being someone’s friend but Frank will take what he can get. The people in his life, including his daughter (Liv Tyler) and a librarian in town (Susan Sarandon) do what they can for him, but they all have their own lives too. And as Frank loses a little more of his memory with each day, he learns to rely more and more on the robot, blurring the lines between reality and artificial intelligence. ROBOT AND FRANK is a little movie with big ideas, led by yet another endearing and layered performance by Langella, an actor who constantly disproves the idea that there aren’t any good parts for older actors. And while the film may not be revelatory on any level, it has plenty of charm to please the viewer. In the end , I learned that we can all get by with a little help from a friend, even if that friend is made of metal.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Written by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon
Directed by Gus Van Sant
Starring Matt Damon, Minnie Driver, Robin Williams and Ben Affleck

Chuckie Sullivan: You know what the best part of my day is? For about 10 seconds, from when I pull up to the curb to when I get to your door, because I think maybe I’ll get up there and I’ll knock on the door and you won’t be there.

I can remember quite clearly what it was like the first time I saw Gus Van Sant’s GOOD WILL HUNTING. It was a particularly snowy winter day which seemingly kept the crowds away from the theatre. It was before Matt Damon and Ben Affleck had become the stuff of Hollywood legend. And while the story of two friends writing themselves a screenplay that would defy all odds to go on and win the Academy Award and make their careers is a story well worth celebrating, it did take away from the film itself. Fifteen years later, the hype has also subsided which allows GOOD WILL HUNTING to to shine brighter than it ever has.

Damon plays Will Hunting, a genius who also just happens to have come from an abusive childhood, an orphan shuffling around from one foster home to the next. After he solves an equation on a chalk board at M.I.T., he runs into more trouble with the law. To avoid jail time, he must meet with an M.I.T. professor weekly to study advanced math, as well as a therapist, to deal with his emotional issues. Enter Robin Williams, in an Oscar-winning turn, as the only therapist Hunting will work with. This is where the film truly takes on its own life and then Van Sant, just drives it home.

GOOD WILL HUNTING makes its first appearance on Blu-ray with a 15-year anniversary edition. Previous DVD features, likes audio commentary from Van Sant, Damon and Affleck for instance, make repeat appearances here. A reflection featurette contains all new interviews with the majority of the cast and reveals so much insight into the making of the film. As Damon and Affleck look back, their appreciation for that moment in time is abundantly obvious, making this anniversary edition well worth celebrating.

Friday, August 17, 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.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


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.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


Written by Richard Wenk and Sylvester Stallone
Directed by Simon West
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham and Jean-Claude Van Damme

Barney Ross: Rest in pieces!

The very notion of THE EXPENDABLES is of very little interest to me. Sure, I watched muscle-led action bloodbaths in my youth (Way to go, Mom!) but very few of those examples (DIE HARD and TERMINATOR 2 come to mind) have actually stuck with me through the years. Still, I was pleasantly surprised by my enjoyment of the first entry in what has now apparently become a franchise. (Nicolas Cage has just signed on for the third installment.) Written and directed by Sylvester Stallone himself, THE EXPENDABLES was both a send-up and an homage to the 80’s action flick. And while the sequel does throw a few more heavyweights into the ring, it does so with very little gusto whatsoever.

There are plenty of explosions, shots fired and blood splatters in THE EXPENDABLES 2, so its wonder to me why it felt so tired most of the time. This could be because Stallone relegated his directing duties to Simon West, who has worked with Jason Statham before (THE MECHANIC) and whose first film was a major action hit, CON AIR. West takes us around the world in THE EXPENDABLES 2, from Nepal to Paris, but yet somehow, each location looks just as drab and uninspired as the last. Even Stallone shows that he doesn’t quite trust the concept when he adds a young man (Liam Hemsworth) and (gasp!) a woman (Nan Yu) to his mixed bag of mercenaries. Nothing against women or younger men but this is such blatant pandering that it’s hard to take any of it very seriously. I understand that films like these are not meant to be taken seriously, but under Stallone’s direction the first time out, you could tell at least he was taking it seriously. It felt like he was trying to prove that he could still do it and he did just that. Now, they’re coasting.

The guns come out blasting from the very start and I had to avert my eyes on a number of occasions because the gore on screen was turning my stomach. In fact, the action is often relentless. And so I’m certain that plenty of action fans will get what they are hoping for in THE EXPENDABLES 2. Personally, when I’m watching two men fight near a helicopter, all I can do is wait for one of them to be splattered against the blades. And I don’t know about you, but I can only watch indiscriminate, ethnically ambiguous foot soldiers drop one after another while missing every single shot they take, for so long before I lose interest. I prefer my action to be original and unexpected, especially when its being doled out by the guys who practically invented the genre. Arnold Schwarzenegger makes his return to the screen and repeats most of his famous one-liners though, so that makes it worth it, right?

I had the pleasure of interviewing Dolph Lundgren for the release of THE EXPENDABLES couple of years ago. Click here to check it out.


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.”

And 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?

Review copy graciously provided by Alliance Films. This interview originally appeared in Ottawa Xpress. This review originally appeared in Montreal's Hour Community.

Monday, August 13, 2012


An interview with PARANORMAN co-director, Sam Fell

“On the surface, I was attracted to the zombies.” Personally, I can think of worse reasons to make a movie but this is the reason PARANORMAN co-director, Sam Fell (FLUSHED AWAY) gives me when I ask what first drew him to his latest stop-motion feature film. When you allow him to elaborate, it doesn’t sound quite so creepy.

Fell, fell further in love with PARANORMAN as he got deeper into co-director, Chris Butler’s personal screenplay. “Chris was cooking this for years before I came on board. As I got into it further, I think what attracted me most was the emotion. It has so much heart and packs an emotional punch.”

Heart on the page does not always translate to the screen, especially when it needs to be communicated to children by another child. Enter Kodi Smit-McPhee, an actor no older than 16 (he was 13, the same age as his character, when the film went into production). Having caught him in THE ROAD, opposite Viggo Mortensen, Fell knew there were few young actors out there who could take on Norman like he could.

“A clever kid character can so easily be precocious. A troubled kid character can be whiny and self-pitying. There are so many ways that you can lose the audience with a kid character. We were so fortunate to find Kodi.” Fell doesn’t stop there either. His praise continues, “That kind of maturity in that young an actor is rare.”

Heart can also have a hard time getting through to an audience when its being served in a zombie movie package. This is especially true if parents worry PARANORMAN might be too scary for their younger brood. Fell, a parent himself, hopes kids don’t miss out on what PARANORMAN has to offer. “I think parents tend to worry more than they need. Kids enjoy scares. I think kids enjoy challenges as well. I think fiction can provide some challenges to kids in a safe environment. They can try out the emotion of fear and test themselves.”

Fell, centre, with Butler, to his right
Even adults have to put themselves in potentially uncomfortable positions from time to time. Going into PARANORMAN, Fell had some concerns about working with Butler on a project he was already so close to. “I didn’t sign on to be a technician; I was there to be a filmmaker,” he says about his initial concerns. He quickly dismisses these though. “In the end, we just liked each other. Some things are just a true collaboration and you’re twice as strong because there’s two of you.”

Having two people at the helm of a demanding stop-motion animation project is probably best for all, considering how much work is involved. “It’s not just people sitting at computers. It involves many disciplines, like a costume department, a lighting department, engineers that do all the rigging,” Fell explains of just a few of the elements he had to oversee during the production. All the hard work is well worth it in the end though. “It’s a very human endeavour and I think it comes across on the screen. You can see that it’s handmade and all the lovely imperfections that come with that. It’s like it’s coming to life on screen.”

So PARANORMAN has heart, scares and comes to life on screen but when it comes down to it, none of these reasons are the true reason Fell wanted to make this movie. The real reason? “This is zombies for kids. I’ve got a kid; I like to make things for him. I like to score points with my son, to be honest.”

Points scored, I’m sure.

Saturday, August 11, 2012


Written by Tony Gilroy and Dan Gilroy
Directed by Tony Gilroy
Starring Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz and Edward Norton

Eric Byer: Jason Bourne was just the tip of the iceberg.

What do you do when the star of your successful film franchise no longer wants to make further installments? These days, the answer is simple. Reboot! Hence, THE BOURNE LEGACY, sans Matt Damon. The move away from the original plot of the series is justified by suggesting that Jason Bourne was never the only one of his kind. In fact, there are a handful of other super human types out there, walking amongst us and infiltrating some of the most guarded places on the planet. We meet one of these genetically enhanced individuals while he is training in Alaska. From under the icy water, he emerges half clothed, as if being born before our eyes. And with that, Bourne is reborn, or so director, Tony Gilroy, would hope.

THE BOURNE LEGACY gets off to a pretty slow start while the new face of the series, Jeremy Renner, as Aaron Cross, takes on the elements in Alaska. While he braves snow flurries and hungry wolves in a training exercise, Gilroy establishes that all this action is taking place at the same time as Jason Bourne’s last escapade, THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, is coming to a close. Bourne’s antics have forced the government to not only abandon the program that made him, but rather abolish it altogether. This amounts to a lot of secret meetings led by Edward Norton (with one of the most ridiculous haircuts I’ve ever seen) that are meant to situate the viewer but only really serve to expose how convoluted the whole Bourne affair has gotten. It’s also rather tedious as well. It isn’t until Aaron realizes he is being hunted by his own creators that the actual action gets started.

Considering THE BOURNE LEGACY is a reboot, Gilroy relies far too heavily on past installments to establish the current premise. Renner holds his own as the new man on the lamb (as does the always impressive Rachel Weisz, as Renner’s love interest) but Gilroy doesn’t give him very much to handle unfortunately. The action sequences are fewer than you would expect and ultimately lead absolutely nowhere. Yes, the point is to have Aaron get away from his hunters but when Bourne got away, he did so with purpose. He was part of a bigger plan and his interaction with the other side was always engaging and twisted. Aaron is just running away and, while his attempts to flee do at times reach the thrilling heights we have grown to expect from the Bourne pictures, I’m not sure this is the legacy Jason Bourne would have wanted to pass on.

Monday, August 06, 2012


Written and Directed by Xavier Dolan
Starring Melvil Poupaud, Suzanne Clement and Monia Chokri

LAURENCE ANYWAYS, the third film from Canadian director, Xavier Dolan, is a mesmerizing love story of epic proportion and extraordinary circumstance. After astonishing the cinema elite with his first feature, J’AI TUE MA MERE, Dolan stumbled in his sophomore effort, LES AMOURS IMAGINAIRES (in some eyes, at least, as I enjoyed the film more than most). He withdrew as a filmmaker after that experience and has now returned with a story so grand, it needs nearly three hours to be told. And while some might interpret the length as pretentious and unnecessary, I see it more as evident growth for the filmmaker himself, and furthermore, a true testament to just how deep love can run between two people.

Laurence Alia (Melvil Poupaud) is a 35-year-old college professor. He is working on his first book of poetry; he is receiving awards for his talent; and he is happily in love with his partner, Fred (Suzanne Clement). Thanks to two passionate and powerful performances, we can see quite clearly what a great bond there is between them, and that it would require a major blow to even begin cracking the foundation of what they have. That blow comes when Laurence announces to Fred that he has been living a lie for years. He can no longer go on living as a man when he knows, in his soul, that he was in fact meant to be a woman. Naturally, Fred is thoroughly freaked out. When two people are so intertwined in each other’s existences though, it can be incredibly difficult to separate from that, no matter what the reason is. Their love goes further than just the body but can changes to the body blind them to it?

Dolan continues to establish himself as a unique and fascinating Canadian voice, drawing comparisons to the likes of Wong Kar-Wai and perhaps even more aptly, Pedro Almodovar. LAURENCE ANYWAYS spans a full decade, the 90’s to be specific, which allows Dolan, who was also responsible for editing and costumes on the film, to take his time with his characters and their relationship. It also allows the viewer to come to terms on their own with Laurence’s decision and subsequent transition. Transsexuality is still taboo to this day, so setting this story twenty years ago not only highlights even more so how difficult their lives must have been, but also just how brave they both were for choosing love and holding each other’s hands throughout every moment of this great change. By the time the film closes, it is clear that Dolan has pulled off a pretty tricky feat; LAURENCE ANYWAYS transcends transsexuality to become a spectacular lament for love itself.

I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Mr. Dolan last year for LES AMOURS IMAGINAIRES. You can read that interview here.