Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Written by John Gatins
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Starring Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, Bruce Greenwood, Don Cheadle and John Goodman

Flight deck: Southjet 227, uh, did you say inverted?

It has been twelve years since Robert Zemeckis last directed a film that featured real people. Well, to be fair, the last three films he made before his latest, FLIGHT, had real people in them; Zemeckis just had art departments paint over them after the actors performed in front of green screens. This is motion capture, which does exactly what it says, capture motion, and not necessarily emotion at the same time. Many complained that his films had grown cold as a result. With FLIGHT, he says what he has to with plenty of feeling but all this reality seems to have thrown off his confidence somewhat.

FLIGHT does two things very well. First of all, it gives Denzel Washington his first truly great role in at least five years. Washington plays Whip Whitaker, an airline pilot with a problem. In fact, he actually has several problems, from drinking to drugs to a troubled past that includes an estranged wife and son. When we meet Whip, he is pretty wrecked from his night of excessive drinking and sexual adventure with one of his flight attendant co-workers (Nadine Valesquez). After doing a line of coke to perk himself up for another day on the job, he struts down the street, aviators conveniently covering his glassy eyes, as though he has everything well under control. By the time his plane starts plummeting out of the sky, he is not so certain about that anymore.

This is the second thing that FLIGHT gets just right. With 102 souls on board, Whip’s plane begins to nosedive shortly before reaching its destination due to a technical malfunction. This catastrophe is intense and moving. While some panic, some triumph and find bravery they clearly never knew they had. It is spectacular to behold on screen and as soon as the plane hits the ground, the questions start. What is to blame for this tragedy? Or rather who? Both we the audience and Captain Whitaker know full well that the reason that plane went down is because of an equipment malfunction. That said, the same parties are also well aware of the fact that it is truly a miracle that Whip was able to land that plan as intoxicated as he was.

Whip’s realization that he may have a serious problem is now all he can think of. His strut has rightfully become a shameful shuffle and Washington captures the push and pull of his addiction brilliantly. Alcohol is the problem but unfortunately for him, and for so many others dealing with similar addictions, it is also, at least in his mind, the solution to alleviate his problems. The cycle is vicious and made very real by a very powerful performance but Zemeckis, along with the help of screenwriter, John Gatins, distracts from it with manipulative tangents about God and unnecessary supporting characters. In the end, like the character he plays, Washington cannot stop FLIGHT from crashing, but his unexpected maneuvering minimizes the overall damage upon impact.

Monday, October 29, 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?

Sunday, October 28, 2012


Written by Shawn Harwell and Chris Henchy
Directed by Jay Roach
Starring Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis and Dylan McDermott

Marty Huggins: Bring your brooms because it’s a mess!

One of my biggest complaints with politics is that they are often far too transparent to be truly taken seriously. At times, it seems that some politicians are hardly even trying to mask that they are not acting in the best interest of the people they are elected to represent but rather in their own. Why then should I lend any more credence to a film that makes about as much effort when it comes to crafting an original take on the modern electoral process, as these politicians do pretending like they care about anything more than their bank account balances?

THE CAMPAIGN promises a good race but really only delivers about as much excitement as one would ordinarily expect from a tiny district congressional election. It isn’t because there isn’t enough talent to make it happen; THE CAMPAIGN boasts talent aplenty in fact. Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis play Cam Brady, a four term congressman looking for his fifth, and Marty Huggins, a local man with no real mind for politics, or much else for that matter. Their characters are ferocious in their competition with each other and Ferrell and Galifianakis are even more intense with their portrayals. These boys commit but unfortunately, they aren’t committing to the right material. Shawn Harwell and Chris Henchey’s screenplay is nowhere near as funny as it could be and even less satirical than it needs to be. What is an American political comedy without bite anyway? A soggy apple pie? Who wants to eat that?

An election movie in an election year is far too easy an opportunity to pass up and director, Jay Roach, takes a far too easy approach to the subject. THE CAMPAIGN is like modern American politics for dummies, but written by the dummies.

Saturday, October 27, 2012


Written by Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnston
Directed by Rich Moore
Voices by John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer and Jane Lynch

Wreck-It Ralph: I’m bad and that is good. I will never be good and that isn’t bad. There is no one I would rather be than me.

I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be very happy if every day you went to work only to be despised and misunderstood by everyone around you. Thus is the plight of one reasonably oafish, apparently stinky, video game character who goes by the name of Ralph, WRECK-IT RALPH, to be more precise. He has no friends; he sleeps in a dump; and he has freakishly huge hands that seem destined for only one thing, wrecking stuff. Here is the worst part. This has been his day in and day out for 30 years! As miserable as Ralph’s life is for him, his attempt to turn it all around is a great delight for all of us.

Ralph is the “bad guy” from a classic arcade game called, “Fix-It Felix Jr.”. As Ralph (aptly voiced by John C. Reilly) destroys a building full of innocent people, Felix (voiced by the apparent go to guy for innocent, yokel types, Jack McBrayer), with his trusty magic hammer, comes along to fix everything. When he’s done, Ralph is tossed off the building and into a pile of mud. When he realizes he hasn’t even been invited to the game’s 30th anniversary party, Ralph simply leaves it on a mission to change the way people see him. Ralph has had enough of being a bad guy and wants to be good for a change, but what he really needs is a lesson in personal acceptance. Naturally, Ralph starts wrecking stuff in other games because he has yet to accept that wrecking stuff is in his nature. If Ralph were crossing a river on the back of a frog, no matter how well intentioned he may be, he would inevitably wreck that frog before they reached the other side.

WRECK-IT RALPH is a unique and imaginative take on the world of gaming. Classic video game characters, from Sonic the Hedgehog to Pac-Man, come alive after the arcade closes for the night, and travel between games through dozens of electrical wire train tubes, that converge in a central station that deserves to be called grand. And as they come to life, so does the film, a remarkable effort by first time filmmaker, Rich Moore. There were times I questioned just who the film was made for though. I seriously doubt young kids would know who Q-Bert is but yet, more often than not, the humour was aimed primarily toward a younger sensibility. Despite some minor focus issues and some overused family friendly themes (don’t kids know that they just need to be themselves by now?), WRECK-IT RALPH is great fun all the same. It may not get a perfect score but it definitely makes the leader board. Pretty solid bragging rights for a first time player, I think.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Written by Frederick Knott
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Ray Milland, Grace Kelly and Robert Cummings

Margot Wendice: Do you really believe in the perfect murder?
Mark Halliday: Yes, absolutely. On paper, that is. And I think I could plan one out better than most people, but I doubt I could carry it out.
Tony Wendice: Oh? Why not?
Mark Halliday: Well, because in stories things usually turn out the way the author wants them to, and in real life they don’t ... always.

Everyone is always so polite in old movies. Amazingly enough, this is even true when they are lying right to your face or say, plotting your demise to collect your fortune. This is what makes Alfred Hitchcock’s DIAL M FOR MURDER so deliciously devious. The characters on screen have no idea what is going on in the minds of the people standing right in front of them, while we the audience, just watch and wait to see what they can all get away with and for just how long they can do so. And Hitchcock, being the genius that he is, makes us privy to everyone’s dirty little secrets and before we know it, we are practically complicit in the crime itself.

Frederick Knott adapts his own stage play for the screen and Hitchcock takes the dialogue heavy, location light work and transforms it into an incredibly tense experience that constantly keeps the audience guessing. The whole ordeal begins with Mark and Margot (Robert Cummings and Grace Kelly), lovers reunited after a lengthy time apart. She reveals to him that her husband has changed recently, as though he is a new man with a new appreciation for life and for her. This puts a bit of a wrench in their plans to be together. She needn’t have worried though. Her husband, Tony (Ray Milland), hasn’t warmed to her at all. In fact, he plans to do away with her and have his way with her money. And he’s got the whole thing figured out too, every tiny little detail. There’s just one thing he hasn’t considered and that is that life rarely lets everything go according to plan just so.

Hitchcock originally shot DIAL M FOR MURDER in 3D, which would explain all the objects carefully placed in the foreground scattered throughout the film. By the time the film was released in theatres though, audiences had already tired of the fad and so it was mostly released in 2D. Now that 3D has returned to favour, the film has been rereleased in its original incarnation in select theatres and on Blu-ray 3D. It is a genuine treat to gain insight into how a movie making master dealt with the third dimension way back in the day. His usage is unobtrusive, and arguably unnecessary, but it never detracts from the brilliance taking place on screen. DIAL M FOR MURDER is duplicitous and deceitful and simply a delight for fans of murder and mayhem.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Written and Directed by Ben Lewin
Starring John Hawkes, Helen Hunt and William H. Macy

Mark O’Brien: I’m definitely a believer but I believe in a god with a sense of humour, a wicked sense of humoour, one that created me in his own image.

Perhaps I’m just not as open as I like to think I am, or perhaps I should consider myself fortunate that I have not yet required such services, but up until seeing THE SESSIONS, I had no real idea that sexual surrogacy existed, let alone what it was. Now, I know that sexual surrogates, more often than not, women, are therapists with backgrounds in sexuality who assist their patients with sexual obstacles, by listening to them, communicating clearly with them and, as it turns out, demonstrating their lessons physically with their patients. In that sense, it’s like therapy with a happy ending, I guess. In reality though, it is so much more than that, as is proven by the true story of Mark O’Brien.

O’Brien (played on screen in a fiercely fearless portayal by John Hawkes) was a poet and at 38 years old, he had yet to experience one of the most inspirational activities God ever gave us, sex. It’s not that the perfect moment never presented itself for O’Brien but rather he had some seemingly insurmountable obstacles to get past in order to get anywhere under the sheets. First of all, his sheets aren’t even on a bed; they are inside an iron lung, where O’Brien spends the majority of his time. At the age of 6, he contracted polio, went on to lose most of his muscular functions and cannot spend more than three hours outside the iron lung. He grew into a well-adjusted adult male and even went on to earn a university degree despite only being able to type using a stick gripped between his teeth to hit keys. Sexual intimacy has always eluded him though and, after falling for one of his attendants, he decides he should be prepared in case that fateful moment should ever arise again.

O’Brien chronicled his sexual awakening in an article that was published at the time and has now formed the basis for THE SESSIONS screenplay, written by Ben Lewin. Lewin also directs, which is the film’s only real weakness. While Lewin coaches incredible performances out of his leads, including Helen Hunt as the surrogate herself and William H. Macy, as O’Brien’s confidant (and parish priest), his visual style is a little static for my taste. There is a lot of talking in THE SESSIONS, which, is necessary considering the action from the lead is rather limited, but at times this stunts the film somewhat. Fortunately though, what is being discussed is simply fascinating and the emotional impact of what is taking place is subtly slipped in amidst these brave performances. In a world where sex has become so transactional on so many levels, it is reassuring to see that feeling can still play a part even when money is deliberately exchanging hands.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Best of Black Sheep: MAGIC MIKE

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!

Monday, October 22, 2012


Written and Directed by Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer
Starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Ben Wishaw, Xun Zhou and Susan Sarandon.

Vyvyan Ayrs: What is a critic other than one who reads quickly, arrogantly but never wisely?

I must be missing the deeper meaning in CLOUD ATLAS, a film so massive in scope that it required three of the most visually innovative directors working today to tackle it properly. I watched six separate stories span centuries and unfold in spectacular fashion before my eyes, and understood pretty early on into its gargantuan 164 minute running time, that all of these stories, although seemingly completely unrelated, were in fact all connected. I’m sure there has to be so much more symbolically going on underneath all the heavy handed imagery and crushing weight of all the prosthetics used in this film, but if there was, it never surfaced to the movie I was watching. CLOUD ATLAS is surprisingly engaging, and at times extremely satisfying, but it insists you invest in it with every fiber of your being at all times, so it can also be exhausting to get through. And by the time I reached the end of this epic journey, I did not find the revelations to be all that worth the effort.

Where to begin when talking about a story that is meant to demonstrate that all stories are connected throughout time? Honestly, I don’t know and thinking about it is making my head hurt. This is my job though so I must attempt this, no matter how convoluted the directorial team, made up of the Wachowski siblings and Tom Tykwer, try to make it for me. A man (Jim Sturgess) takes a stand against slavery and is unknowingly poisoned while on a ship at sea, circa 1850. Another man (Ben Wishaw) writes a sextet that no one will ever hear in 1931. A woman (Halle Berry) tries to take down a nuclear company up to no good in the 70’s. An older gentlemen (Jim Broadbent, the film’s shining star) is tricked into a nursing home prematurely in present day. A genetically engineered woman, known as a fabricant (Xun Zhou), serves food and wonders if there is anything more to life in a dystopian near future (in what I found to be the most compelling of the stories). And finally an old man (Tom Hanks) tells a campfire story in the far away future about when he was young and what it was like to live just after humanity fell. All of this is tied together by the suggestion that each of these stories contains a character that once lived in another time, in another one of these stories.

From what I hear, the book which CLOUD ATLAS was based upon, written by David Mitchell, is even more dense. From what I hear, it also does a better job at showing how cyclical all of our history and connectedness truly is. Having not read it, I cannot confirm this, but a novel does provide a better foundation with which to base this elaborate and ambitious undertaking. The visual adaptation here is more a spectacle than an emotional or meaningful exchange. Even the interconnectedness of it all has to be spelled out to us by having all the actors play several different parts (with varied results). While the three directors are all on the same page visually, seamlessly jumping back and forth between the Wachowski’s future and Tykwer’s past and present, they are all amiss when it comes to tying together the actual feelings that humanize us all throughout time. When they are in the moment, they often get it right, but CLOUD ATLAS, isn’t about just one moment; it is about them all and this is just too big a picture to behold all at once.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


Written by James Ponsoldt and Susan Berke
Directed by James Ponsoldt
Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul and Octavia Spencer

Jenny: It’s hard to live your life with honesty, y’know.

As I write this review, I am very slowly nursing a rather large cup of coffee, trying to figure out where I’m going to find the energy to get dressed at some point and squinting to see the words I am typing on the screen. The result is always the same and you would think that after so many years, I would know better. Yet, here I am, again. I had too much to drink last night and everything today is going to be that much more difficult for it. Still, I think it could be worse. I could have woken up in a pool of my own urine and be drinking again by the time I get in the shower today. Heck, I could even drink straight from the bottle while I’m actually in the shower! While I am very fortunate that this is not my life, this is just another day in the life of Kate Hannah, a wife and elementary school teacher whose life is all about getting SMASHED, which, incidentally, is also the title of one this year’s greatest surprises in film.

Getting smashed is a fantastic way to put your troubles way the hell out of your mind but there comes a point in time when you realize that doing it as much as you do, may actually be causing all of your life troubles. Such is the realization Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has one day when she throws up in class and, rather then tell her grade one class that she just isn’t feeling well, she lies and tells them that she is in fact pregnant instead. This of course upsets her because, let’s be honest, how on earth is she going to get out of this one, and her natural inclination when things go sour is to drink. Her husband (Aaron Paul) is no help either, as their favorite thing to do together is get stinking drunk. And I’m talking biking in the middle of the street and peeing right in the middle on a convenience store, drunk. So, when Kate decides it is time to get sober, their marriage is put to its biggest test.

SMASHED shouldn’t work theoretically. Winstead is an unproven lead and the supporting cast is made up of sitcom actors (real life husband and wife, Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally), to say nothing of the serious subject matter that is given a decidedly lighter tone. Still, it does work and well at that. This is due first in great part to Winstead herself. She manages to make a fairly unlikable character sympathetic and strong. As she sobers up, it is like she can see her life clearer and clearer with every passing day. She doesn’t like what she sees, nor does she like the decisions she knows she has to make in order to successfully remain sober, but she does them all the same. Each step she takes, some less heavy then others of course, we are right there by her side, thanks to the delicate and respectful direction of James Ponsoldt. Under him, all the elements come together, some comedic and some brutally honest, to create an intimate and revealing look at how a life is put back together after it has been smashed to pieces.

Friday, October 19, 2012


Written by Kay Cannon
Directed by Jason Moore
Starring Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Skyler Astin and Anna Camp

Aubrey: Aca-scuse me?

Despite its best efforts to differentiate itself from “Glee”, PITCH PERFECT is not that much more than a blatant attempt to capitalize on the success that show has enjoyed bringing show choir to the masses. Without ever saying the word, “glee” once, one of the inevitably geeky-ish a cappella singers decrees at one point early on that collegiate competitive a cappella singing is not like high school, where you sing through whatever emotional or identity crisis you’re going through. No, no; in fact, this is some serious stuff here. All the same, as these boys and girls sing their way through finding acceptance and make their way toward regionals and subsequently, finals, I coudln’t help but wonder when Rachel Berry was going to storm into the choir room and whip them all into shape. Unfortunately, she never arrived.

This is not to say that PITCH PERFECT doesn’t deliver any of the gooey good times that come with any piece featuring young people who find happiness in song and dance. It’s just that its pitch never comes anywhere near perfect. Anna Kendrick leads the charge, for the first time in her career actually, and, after seeing her play such sophisticated, adult characters in the past (50/50, UP IN THE AIR), watching her regress into a character that is actually more her age feels somewhat forced and beneath her. This is especially true here because the film is so formulaic and predictable. It calls itself out on that one too, as if that is supposed to excuse it for not trying to be original. Still, Kendrick, along with standouts, Brittany Snow (BRIDESMAIDS) and Anna Camp (THE HELP), bring everything they have to their characters and provide PITCH PERFECT with scattered moments of hilarity and tenderness.

Cute is the only word I can truly use to describe PITCH PERFECT. These days, calling something cute though is something of a double-edged sword. Yes, it made me giggle and I may start adding “aca” as a prefix ahead of all the aca-awesome things I say on a regular basis. That said though, cute also implies that the film tries really hard but never quite gets it right, like giving a little pat on the head to a toddler who did his best at a dance recital when you know they will never really make it anywhere in the field. These young folks sing their little hearts out, occasionally hitting notes you don’t see coming, but never belt it out of the park. It all just fell a little flat for me.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Black Sheep Does TV: MAD MEN Season 5

I am one of those people who only watches certain shows when they are released on Blu-ray or DVD. They air on television all season long and I play a fun little game trying to avoid all spoilers and the like, while they are dissected by the masses on Twitter and message boards. And in the meantime, I wait. I wait for months to go by in between releases and in the case of MAD MEN Season 5, I realized that I had waited a total of a year and a half to feast upon its brilliance once again. Having missed their original production start date for the fifth season of the AMC series, the four time Emmy Award winner for Best Dramatic Series was forced to make fans wait to find out the happenings at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. The question is, was it worth the wait?

This year marks the first year since MAD MEN debuted in 2007 that it did not take home the Emmy for Best Dramatic Series. (That honour went to the fledgling season of HOMELAND.) The suggestion of course is that the series, created and still run by Matthew Weiner, is slipping. In the fourth season, we watched what felt like a very slow build that culminated in some very shocking and significant moments for the oh so fashionable cast. This fifth season was as stunning as always, as diligently performed as always and as poetically written as always but somehow, just not as memorable as always. There just weren't as many moments to mark the series this time around. Of course, this might be because a good chunk of the characters are depressed most of the way through the season. Pater Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) can't get comfortable planting roots in the suburbs, while Betty Francis (January Jones) gets too comfortable in the suburbs, putting on a noticeable amount of boredom weight. Meanwhile, the man at the helm, Don Draper (Jon Hamm, who has incidentally and questionably never won an Emmy for this role), doesn't even see that his new marriage to his former secretary, Megan (Jessica Pare), has distracted him from the fiery drive that once drew everyone to him.

MAD MEN Season 5 consists of 13 episodes and, even though I was thrilled to have everyone back in my living room, whether to watch Roger Sterling (John Slattery) go off on an LSD inspired enlightenment journey or just to see what Peggy Olsen (Elizabeth Moss) and Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) would be wearing each week, it felt as though I had episodes to get through to get to the end rather than my usual desperation to get to as many episodes as possible and inevitable depression when I realized there were none left. I will now have to wait another year or so to see how the series concludes (as the sixth season may be its last) and I'm sure by the time that time rolls around, I will be just as ravenous for more. The great thing about MAD MEN is that even if it falters just a little bit, it is  already so brilliant to begin with that it still remains a cut above everyone else.

Monday, October 15, 2012


Written by Lee Daniels and Peter Dexter
Directed by Lee Daniels
Starring Zac Efron, Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey and John Cusack

Jack Jansen: I smell awful.
Anita Chester: That’s because that blonde lady peed all over your face.

If you like the idea of watching a movie where pretty boy, Zac Efron, parades around in tattered white briefs, covered in dirt and sweat, most of the way through it, then THE PAPERBOY is the movie for you! Fortunately for me, I’m a big fan of any movie where Efron strips down to his bare essentials, especially when said movie actually pushes the young actor past his squeaky clean, good boy image. It is refreshing to know he is interested in doing something more with his career than dancing in gymnasiums and headlining Nicholas Sparks pseudo-romances. I’m not sure getting peed on by Nicole Kidman was what he had in mind when he sought out grittier fare, but he didn’t seem to mind it all that much.

Writer/Director, Lee Daniels’s follow-up to his breakthrough Oscar winner, PRECIOUS, will certainly not earn him the notice and accolades his last film did, but it does solidify him as a director with a clear voice and talent that deserves to be recognized. THE PAPERBOY, based on the acclaimed Peter Dexter novel, is pure trash, but in a good way. It’s the kind of tawdry experience that wears it’s campier elements so boldly and proudly on its sleeve, you might confuse it for actual garbage. Get in on the joke though and it becomes a delightful game, where in order to win, Daniels must constantly top himself with one bewildering atrocity after another. Amidst all this melodrama, and I assure you, there is plenty, there is an actual plot. A convicted murderer (John Cusack) is having his case reinvestigated by a local journalist (Matthew McConaughey) at the insistence of his fiancee (Nicole Kidman, who is deliciously dirty). Efron plays younger brother to McConaughey and is just there to soak it all in.

Daniels must be an incredibly trustworthy individual. Not only does he get A-listers like Kidman and McConaughey to put themselves in shockingly compromising positions (I wasn’t kidding about that urinary, jellyfish-related incident between Kidman and Efron before), but he also has a knack for getting the viewer on his side despite, the difficult circumstances he immerses them in. THE PAPERBOY may not be anywhere near as emotionally devastating as PRECIOUS was, but by surrendering fully to the trash-tastic (and often racist) nature that the 1960’s deep American south setting requires, it becomes a spectacular homage to a style of filmmaking that has sadly long been forgotten.

Saturday, October 13, 2012


An interview with ANTIVIRAL writer/director, Brandon Cronenberg

Imagine a world, if you will, where celebrity obsession has reached truly disturbing heights. Your neighbour stops by the local butcher on his way home to pick up steaks that have been genetically engineered from cells derived from the latest teen sensation; or maybe your mother stops by the clinic to have the same strain of hepatitis that was once in an Oscar winner, injected into her own blood stream. All so that they can be closer to their idols in ways they never could before. It’s a new world, an unsettling world; it is a world one man concocted in his head in the midst of one heck of a furious fever dream.

“I was in a weird head space, obsessing over the physicality of the disease, the fact that I had something physically in my body that had come from someone else’s body,” explains writer/director, Brandon Cronenberg, of the inspiration behind what would become his senior short film project and eventually go on to become ANTIVIRAL, his first feature. “It struck me as a weirdly intimate thing, someone else’s cells penetrating your cells. It’s pretty sexual and pretty intimate if you think of it that way. I then tired to think of a character that would see disease that way and came up with a celebrity obsessed fan.”

If the whole thing still sounds a bit too much to take, keep in mind where Cronenberg comes from. Brandon is the son of David Cronenberg, one of Canada’s most famous directors, who made a name for himself in the 1980’s as a horror master, with films like THE FLY and DEAD RINGERS. Between his father’s warped inspiration and the celebrity interactions Brandon had growing up, ANTIVIRAL starts to make a little more sense.

Cronenberg checking the playback.

“Obviously through my father, I was exposed to a lot of celebrity,” Cronenberg describes to me when we meet at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, where ANTIVIRAL had its North American premiere, following its world premiere in Cannes. “One of the themes in the film is this disconnect celebrities have as these cultural constructs and media constructs and the human beings that these constructs actually are. It’s not a revelation that what is conveyed in magazines isn’t completely factual, but to really see it first hand, the extent to which that is fictionalized, you can really see how far removed that is from the people themselves.”

Despite growing up around film, Brandon was adamantly against the idea of ever getting involved in it himself for a long time. “Until I was 24, I really hated the idea of getting into film,” he explains of his naturally youthful defiance. “Just because I grew up around it, I would get approached with these preconceptions that I must love film. At a certain point, I realized that this was a bad reason not to get into something I found interesting.”

ANTIVIRAL star, Caleb Landry Jones, in front of a massive Sarah Gadon billboard.

Brandon is also acutely aware of the level of scrutiny he is facing with his first feature, a horror one at that, having come from horror royalty. “In terms of individualism, everybody, well I shouldn’t say everybody, but certainly a lot of people, are affected by our relationship and interpret the film in the context of my father’s career, which was to be expected,” he confides, without a trace of disdain. “I think some of the comparisons are legitimate and some of them are vastly overstated. I was going to get that anyway; I was getting it before I even got into film.”

Regardless of where it’s coming from or why it’s coming his way, Brandon is just excited that people are seeing ANTIVIRAL as a result. “One of the great things about film as a medium is that it is still quite prominent in our cultural landscape. People still get angry about film. People still react to them very strongly. This degree of scrutiny is very strange to experience but it’s also great because I just want people to see the film. I’m happy to have it.”

See it, they will, but if they’re anything like me, they might have to look away from the screen now and then because ANTIVIRAL is just that horrifying. But have you really done your job as a horror director if that doesn’t happen?

ANTIVIRAL is playing now across Canada.

Friday, October 12, 2012


Written and Directed by Brandon Cronenberg
Starring Caleb Landry Jones, Sarah Gadon and Malcolm MacDowell

Syd March: Celebrities are not people; they are a group hallucination.

ANTIVIRAL, the debut feature from Canadian writer/director, Brandon Cronenberg, is being billed as a horror film. While it does offer up some significantly scary moments and I did have to look away in disgust on more than one occasion, the most frightening thing about ANTIVIRAL has absolutely nothing to do with the horror you may be accustomed to. The thing that’s coming to kill us here is our own ever worsening obsession with celebrity and fame.

Cronenberg, son to infamously macabre director, David Cronenberg, paints a fairly desolate picture of our contemporary existence. Visually, everything seems so drab, as if we’ve stopped living with any actual passion. If it weren’t for his bright, ginger hair, we would likely not even notice the story’s “hero”, Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones), for his pale skin blends right in with the sterile background. Syd works for The Lucas Clinic, one of a handful of medical treatment facilities that allows people to get closer to their favorite celebrities in ways you would never even imagine. This clinic gives its patients the chance to infect themselves with diseases exclusively obtained from the elite celebrity community. Now, not only can you know everything about them, but you can have something that was once inside of them, inside of you.

Syd drives the rest of ANTIVIRAL with an attempt to sell the latest celebrity disease on the black market, which goes horribly awry. His struggle is a truly disturbing one but the brilliance of Cronenberg’s debut is that no matter how repulsive Syd’s exaggerated journey is, we can never forget that it is our very real celebrity fixation that inspired it to begin with.

Don't miss my interview with Brandon Cronenberg, coming tomorrow!

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Written by Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias
Directed by Ira Sachs
Starring Thure Lindhardt, Zachary Booth and Julianne Nicholson

Paul: Would you turn the light on above the bed? I don’t want to be in the dark with you.

It’s funny to me how complicated we can make relationships between lovers. We can wallow around wanting more when we are single, only to have our eyes wander, and our minds wonder what other worlds exist outside our own, once we get what we thought we wanted. Writer/Director, Ira Sachs (MARRIED LIFE) shines a light on one particular relationship that spans more than a decade in his latest film, KEEP THE LIGHTS ON. And in staying true to his title, he never allows his subjects to do what so many of us so often do in situations like these, which is to run and hide where the light can’t find us.

When we first meet Erik (Thure Lindhardt) a Danish documentary filmmaker living in New York City, circa 1998, it is the middle of the night and he can’t seem to get to sleep. It would appear that the only way Erik would find peace that night would be in the arms of a strange man (Zachary Booth). He thinks he finds an anonymous lover to get him through, but by the time their encounter is over, he finds himself wanting to see this beautiful, blond boy again. The boy’s name is Paul and Paul is a literary agent who still lives in the closet. Unbeknownst to either man at the time of their tryst, they would each go on to form the next chapter in each other’s lives. And that is when the real fun begins, right? That is when you learn about your partner’s debilitating drug problem or that is when you have to face your own addiction to promiscuity and always wondering who might be around the next corner. As difficult as overcoming some of these issues might be, this is the time when you actually stand the chance of truly falling in love with another person.

KEEP THE LIGHTS ON is a tender and engaging film that perfectly captures the tiny nuances exchanged between people struggling to let someone else in. Sachs, who based this story on his own earlier life experiences, clearly knows what he is talking about here, and the manner in which he tells us his story exemplifies his abilities as an independent filmmaker and his bravery as a storyteller. It is a very personal and very intimate film that aims to portray the intricacies of a modern relationship from start to finish. It accomplishes its goal with ease and grace but it goes one step further than that too. Keeping the lights on keeps people honest, and in doing so, allows for the healing process to begin. This film’s heart confirms that Sachs knows this elusive place. That he shares this place with us is just an honour.

KEEP THE LIGHTS ON opens in Toronto at TIFF Bell Lightbox on Friday, October 12. For tickets and show times, please visit tiff.net.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Written and Directed by Sarah Polley

Michael Polley: When you’re in the middle of a story, it isn’t a story at all. It’s a confusion.

It isn’t often that I feel the need to give a spoiler warning before discussing a documentary, but I feel there is no real way to discuss Sarah Polley’s latest (and dare I say, greatest) film, STORIES WE TELL, without giving away the story itself. Polley decides to turn the camera inward, or as close to inward as is physically possible when you’re still the one directing the film from behind the camera. In doing so, not only does she somehow avoid veering into the hyper-egotistical terrain the subject matter could very easily provide, but she also creates a beautiful film that explores perspective and how it shapes all of our lives. This is the work of a very brave filmmaker.

Polley is very guarded with her information at the onset of STORIES WE TELL, and when you find out why, it only stands to reason. It isn’t quite clear what she’s trying to show us at first but, little by little, and rather organically I might add, the film’s structure takes shape. Polley is interviewing her siblings, or rather interrogating, as she puts it, and filming her father, Michael Polley, as he reads a story he wrote that involves his daughter. It is the story of Polley’s youth, of her parents’ relationship, and of their difficulties. More specifically though, and this is the spoiler part, it becomes clear at one point that this is the story of how Sarah was conceived out of wedlock. 

By having everyone directly and indirectly involved in the film, including her actual birth father, whom I will let the film reveal to you in its own time, Polley is able to piece together a story from so many different sources. As if to acknowledge that she knows that there is no true way to get the real details of this story (as her mother died when Polley was 11), she cuts away to archival family footage of the period her mother would have had her affair, only to later reveal that this footage is staged with actors playing the parts of her parents. Add to this the inevitable filtering Polley has over the overall telling of this story as she sits in the editing room, and you have a crafty and discerning exploration of the art of storytelling itself .The true beauty of STORIES WE TELL though isn’t the scandal or even the insight; no, what resonates most is to see the Polley family still together after surviving what was certainly a difficult story for all of them.

Tuesday, October 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.

PROMETHEUS BLU-RAY RELEASE: While PROMETHEUS may not have wowed me the way I had hoped, I know plenty of people who think it is one of the best films of Ridley Scott's career. To those people, I ask, have you seen BLADE RUNNER? GLADIATOR? The original ALIEN even? In all seriousness though, any fan of PROMETHEUS will be thrilled with this release. The Blu-ray/DVD combo pack contains over 7 hours of bonus material, including commentary tracks from Scott himself, as well as writers, Lindelof and Spaihts, an alternate ending and opening, as well as other deleted scenes. What is perhaps the most exciting thing about the Blu-ray though is the high definition itself. As you know from reading my review, the one thing I cannot fault PROMETHEUS for is its visual prowess and it is undeniably stunning in HD. The cover art promises that questions will be answered in this release and I know a lot of you still have a lot of questions. So get out there and get it already!

Review copy provided by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.