In the 2006 animated blockbuster Happy Feet an alienated emperor penguin named Mumbles found empowerment through tap-dancing and in so doing managed to both attract a mate and stop the overfishing that imperiled his Antarctic habitat. Directed by George Mitchell – the same George Mitchell who gave us the post-apocalyptic Mad Max trilogy and the almost despairingly bleak Babe: Pig in the City – Happy Feet paired its broadly conventional narrative with a darker sensibility not often seen in talking-animal fare.
The film’s sequel Happy Feet Two finds Mitchell (co-directing with Gary Eck) both more jovial and more easily distracted. The story begins straightforwardly enough with Mumbles (Elijah Wood) now grown-up and by all appearances well-adjusted ceding the mantle of self-discovery to his son Erik (Ava Acres). Boogie fever has swept the once dance-averse penguin nation but in a cruelly ironic twist Erik has inherited none of his father’s nifty moves. But just as Happy Feet Two appears intent on recycling its predecessor’s basic storyline the film abruptly changes course and embarks on a series of detours that seemed geared more as fodder for throwaway gags and showy set pieces than anything else. The disparate narrative elements while enjoyable in isolation never quite coalesce into a meaningful whole leaving us entertained but unfulfilled.
As before Happy Feet Two features a variety of buoyant song-and-dance numbers with Alecia Moore (aka P!nk) lending her formidable pipes to spirited re-workings of “Rhythm Nation” and “Under Pressure ” among others. Robin Williams returns for double duty as both Ramon a diminutive oversexed Latin lover and Lovelace a fiery Southern-preacher type. (Lovelace later adopts a Rastafarian dialect allowing Williams to achieve the rare culture-caricature trifecta.) His voracious scenery-devouring is all the more impressive given the grandeur of the scenery. Not to be left out of the quasi-Vaudevillian comic shenanigans Hank Azaria lays on a thick Scandinavian shtick as Sven a charismatic Arctic émigré who presents himself as the only penguin in the world who can fly. Azaria is a hoot but the film’s best moments come courtesy of the cast’s highest-profile additions Matt Damon and Brad Pitt voicing Bill and Will (respectively) two tiny krill in search of meaning at the bottom of the food chain.
Naomi Watts and Matt Dillon have signed up to star in the upcoming indie drama Sunlight Jr., from Sherrybaby writer/director Laurie Collyer.
Watts will play a hard-working convenience-store clerk, while Dillon will star as her paraplegic boyfriend. For the first time in a long time, things are looking up for the couple, as Watts' Melissa is pregnant -- but the excitement turns to despair when she loses her job and apartment.
Watts was recently seen in the thriller Dream House and will appear prominently in next week's J. Edgar. Dillon, meanwhile, hasn't been heard from since last year's Takers but has several high-profile projects due for release in 2012.
Click on the image below to see more photos of Naomi Watts!
Hollywood actress Maggie Gyllenhaal won the Best Actress prize for her performance in Sherrybaby at the 17th Stockholm Film Festival Saturday night.
Sherrybaby, directed by Laurie Collyer, also picked up the Bronze Horse award for best movie at the Swedish event.
Ryan Gosling was named Best Actor for his role in Half Nelson, while the Audience Award was presented to Little Miss Sunshine.
Swedish filmmaker Lasse Hallstrom, best known for movies like The Cider House Rules, Chocolat and What's Eating Gilbert Grape, was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
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The story starts just as Sherry (Gyllenhaal) a heroin addict who went to prison for robbing a bank is getting out on parole. Her brother (Brad William Henke) and sister-in-law (Bridget Barkan) have been raising her young daughter Alexis (Ryan Simpkins) and Sherry finds that the girl's loyalties are torn. Sherry walks the fine line between surviving and relapsing as the film follows her struggles to stay clean find a job and most importantly win back her daughter's love. Writer/director Laurie Collyer says she picked Gyllenhaal to play Sherry because "I believe she is the most exciting actress of her generation " and it's hard to disagree. Gyllenhaal is long overdue for awards recognition. Maybe this is the film that will finally let her break through. In what could be a very unlikable role the actress makes us sympathize with Sherry's struggles even when she screws up time after time. Gyllenhaal holds nothing back stripping casually for the camera in several scenes. It’s uncomfortable watching how accustomed Sherry is to using her body to get what she needs. Despite the revelations about her character--she was a teenager stripper her father likely abused her--the film and Gyllenhaal's performance is never melodramatic. She makes Sherry a fundamentally sunny person one we really want to see succeed. As her unlikely sponsor and boyfriend Danny Trejo at first comes off as just another man out to exploit her but reveals himself to be a good man and a real grounding force. Sherry’s brother Bobby is played by Henke with a quiet patience. Barkan remains sympathetic as his wife Sherry's main rival for Alexis's love who doesn't trust Sherry and insists that Alexis stop calling Sherry "Mommy." Simpkins as Alexis is excellent and very natural as she goes from unrestrained joy to seeing her mother again to eventual fear and mistrust. Sherrybaby is a low-key indie filmed matter-of-factly almost like a documentary with no razzle-dazzle. The naturalness of the film extends from the performances to the look and the non-intrusive music score. The story is not a new one and could almost play out like a Lifetime movie of the week except that it so expertly avoids melodrama at every turn. You keep waiting for Sherry to spiral dangerously out of control or to lose her daughter on their one day out but the film is about small moments and small steps. And in the end you’re left wanting more wondering what will happen next to these people. It’s the ultimate testament to a good film.
Two of the most prestigious independent film communities have recently each given their stamp of approval on independent cinema both past and future. Nominees for the 2006 Independent Spirit Awards were announced as was the lineup for the independent feature film and world cinema competitions for next year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Although each organization acknowledge and reward independent filmmaking, the two fetes are quite different. The Spirit Awards are more of a conventional awards show, which will be handed out March 4 in Santa Monica, California [for full coverage on the Spirit Award nominations, click here].
The Sundance Awards are the culmination of the 10-day festival (Jan. 19-29 in Park City, Utah) that showcases the films in contention for awards. Next year’s Sundance Film Festival lineup marks a return of sorts to the fest’s roots, by giving way to more fresh faces. The total number of submissions increased, resulting in a different and exciting format--the expansion of the world competition to include more international films.
Below are the films to be shown in the four competition sections:
American Dramatic Competition A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (Director, screenwriter: Dito Montiel) Come Early Morning (Director, screenwriter: Joey Lauren Adams) Flannel Pajamas (Director, screenwriter: Jeff Lipsky) Forgiven (Director, screenwriter: Paul Fitzgerald) Half Nelson (Director: Ryan Fleck; screenwriters: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck) Hawk Is Dying (Director: Julian Goldberger; screenwriters: Harry Crews (novel), Julian Goldberger) In Between Days (Director: So Yong Kim; screenwriters: So Yong Kim, Bradley Rust Gray) Puccini for Beginners (Director, screenwriter: Maria Maggenti) Quinceanera (Director/screenwriters: Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland) Right at Your Door (Director, screenwriter: Chris Gorak) Sherrybaby (Director, screenwriter: Laurie Collyer) Somebodies (Director, screenwriter: Hadjii) Stay (Director, screenwriter: Bob Goldthwait) Steel City (Director, screenwriter: Brian Jun) Stephanie Daley (Director, screenwriter: Hilary Brougher) Wristcutters: A Love Story (Director: Goran Dukic; screenwriters: Goran Dukic, Etgar Kerett)
American Documentary Competition:
A Lion in the House (Directors: Steven Bogner, Julia Reichert) American Blackout (Director: Ian Inaba) An Unreasonable Man (Directors: Henriette Mantel, Stephen Skrovan) Crossing Arizona (Director: Joseph Mathew) God Grew Tired of Us (Director: Christopher Quinn) Ground Truth: After the Killing Ends (Director: Patricia Foulkrod) Iraq in Fragments (Director: James Longley) Small Town Gay Bar (Director: Malcom Ingram) So Much So Fast (Directors: Steven Ascher, Jeanne Jordan) Thin (Director: Lauren Greenfield) 'Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris (Director: Raymond De Felitta) The Trials of Darryl Hunt (Directors: Ricki Stern, Annie Sundberg) TV Junkie (Director: Michael Cain) Wide Awake (Director: Alan Berliner) Wordplay (Director: Patrick Creadon) The World According to Sesame Street (Directors: Linda Goldstein Knowlton, Linda Hawkins Costigan)
World Cinema Dramatic Competition 13 Tzameti (Director, screenwriter: Gela Babluani), France Allegro (Director: Christoffer Boe; screenwriters: Christoffer Boe, Mikael Wulff), Denmark The Aura (Director, screenwriter: Fabian Bielinsky), Argentina The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros (Director: Auraeus Solito; screenwriter: Michiko Yamamoto), Philippines Eve & The Fire Horse (Director, screenwriter: Julia Kwan), Canada Grbavica (Director, screenwriter: Jasmila Zbanic), Bosnia-Herzegovina The House of Sand (Director: Andrucha Waddington; screenwriter: Elena Soarez), Brazil Kiss Me Not on the Eyes (Director, screenwriter: Jocelyne Saab), Lebanon Little Red Flowers (Director: Zhang Yuan; Screenwriters: Ning Dai, Zhang Yuan), China Madeinusa (Director, screenwriter: Claudia Llosa), Peru No. 2 (Director, screenwriter: Toa Fraser), New Zealand One Last Dance (Director, screenwriter: Max Makowski), Singapore The Peter Pan Formula (Director, screenwriter: Cho Chan-Ho), South Korea Princesas (Director, screenwriter: Fernando Leon de Aranoa), Spain Solo Dios Sabe (Director: Carlos Bolado; screenwriters: Carlos Bolado, Diane Weipert), Brazil/Mexico Son of Man (Director: Mark Dornford-May; screenwriters: Mark Dornford-May, Andiswa Kedama, Pauline Malefane), South Africa
World Cinema Documentary Competition 5 Days (Director: Yoav Shamir), Israel Angry Monk--Reflections on Tibet (Director: Luc Schaedler), Switzerland Black Gold (Director: Marc Francis, Nick Francis), U.K. By the Ways, a Journey with William Eggleston (Directors: Cedric Laty, Vincent Gerard), France Dear Pyongyang (Director: Yang Yonghi), Japan The Giant Buddhas (Director: Christian Frei), Switzerland Glastonbury (Director: Julien Temple), U.K. I is for India (Director: Sandhya Suri), England/Germany/Italy In the Pit (Director: Juan Carlos Rulfo), Mexico Into Great Silence (Director: Philip Groening), Germany Kz (Director: Rex Bloomstein), U.K. No One (Director: Tin Dirdamal), Mexico The Short Life of Jose Antonio Gutierrez (Director: Heidi Specogna), Germany Songbirds (Director: Brian Hill), U.K. Unfolding Florence: The Many Lives of Florence Broadhurst (Director: Gillian Armstrong), Australia Viva Zapatero (Director: Sabina Guzzanti), Italy