Hollywood has had lots to say about the American school system as of late and whether you choose to believe the information presented to you via eye-opening documentaries like Waiting For Superman or fictional phenomenon’s like Fox’s Glee it’s clear that our educational institutions are out-of whack at best broken at worst. No one has been able to depict this disheartening downward spiral quite like director Tony Kaye with his new film Detachment. In it the reclusive auteur focuses on just a few weeks in the life of Henry Barthes a substitute teacher who gets more than he bargained for when he takes a job at a fledgling high school and in the process gives parents professors and kids a much-needed wake-up call.
In this short period of time Kaye dissects the contemporary classroom with unflinching realism. The grainy worn film stock he uses for his verite’ photography coupled with topical subject matter ranging from child prostitution and teen suicide to parental negligence makes the movie appear to be more a documentary than a narrative feature but that’s where Carl Lund’s poetic screenplay comes in. His prose is simultaneously beautiful and brutal effortlessly supplying existential excerpts for star Adrien Brody darkly comic bits for fellow teacher James Caan and up-to-the-minute slanguage for the teenage students. He also uses this star-studded stage (the ensemble includes Marcia Gay Harden Tim Blake Nelson and Christina Hendricks among many others) to touch upon the larger sociopolitical issues effecting our schools and children lashing out at numerous initiatives/establishments like “No Child Left Behind” that we’re led to believe have been implemented to increase residential property values instead of grades. Though the script begins to sound like a sermon at times it’s not intrusive enough to become distasteful. Quite simply it’s brazenly truthful.
However excessive exposition can often hurt a film’s momentum and Kaye gets unnecessarily sidetracked with the painful back-stories of his characters. Brody’s Barthes is our central protagonist so the sub-plot involving his aging ailing grandfather is essential in defining him but the filmmaker forces insight into the lives of almost every teacher (and a few of the students) down our throats. Individually each vignette is heartrending but distracting; the majority of them have little connection to the main narrative. Collectively they illustrate many of the problems that contemporary families face and more importantly create an emotional crescendo leading into the inevitably tragic conclusion.
The brilliance of this casual buildup to the film’s climax is a nod to Kaye’s storytelling aptitude. I found him utilizing the kind of in-your-face filmmaking tactics that Spike Lee made commonplace in his early movies most noticeably with close-ups on a few actors who irritably address the camera head-on (like in Do The Right Thing). In addition he intensifies the action with quick cuts and aggressive push-ins that elaborate on each character’s crisis. Perfection clearly isn't his strong point; Kaye frames his shots sloppily at times and doesn't attempt anything groundbreaking but maximizes the potential of tried-and-true lo-fi techniques. His stylistic abilities are second only to Brody’s performance which is subtle sad and sweet all at once. We take an emotional and psychological plunge with the native New Yorker as he navigates a teenage wasteland of sex drugs violence and depression but it’s all just another day at school to America’s urban youth.
Long absent since his freshman feature American History X Detachment is a welcome return for Tony Kaye whose commitment to the integrity of this story is marked by unrelenting bleakness in its tone and uncensored cynicism regarding the state of our schools. He doesn’t portray every educator as a saint or every student as a sinner; through Brody he imparts on us the uneasy truth about the direct correlation between our failure as parents and the failure our children: we're one and the same. The true genius in his film is not represented in the text of his commentary but in his ability to forge an explanatory mosaic from his characters’ varying but related points of view. Because of this there are multiple mini-narratives that run through Detachment and all of them are worthy of your attention.
If animals could indeed view their surroundings intellectually and talk to each other it’s entirely possible they’d discuss how screwed up human beings are especially in the ridiculous way we waste food. But hey to RJ (Bruce Willis) a wily raccoon what we throw away today becomes lunch tomorrow. He tries to impart some of this wisdom to his newfound friends--a motley crew lead by Verne the turtle (Garry Shandling)--after they wake up after a long winter’s nap and discover most of their natural habitat has been turned into a housing development separated by a very tall hedge. Yep these woodsy folk are sure in for an eye-opening adventure as the manipulative RJ convinces the gang to start collecting boxes of cheese doodles Girl Scout cookies and marshmallows telling them there is little to fear and everything to gain from their over-indulgent new neighbors. Now if they can only get rid of that cat... If you’re an actor these days the chances to play a serious Oscar-worthy role are just as great as playing a squirrel. Or a hedgehog. Or a guy called the Verminator. Over the Hedge has a fine slate of voices starting with Willis as RJ the raconteur raccoon whose pretty savvy to the ways of the paved and pre-packaged world of suburbia. Shandling is the heart of the film as the mild-mannered Verne who just wants to take care of his little woodland family. They include a couple of married-with-kids hedgehogs (pitch perfect Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara); a hyperactive but tender-hearted squirrel (a hilarious Steve Carell); an overdramatic possum (William Shatner playing it to the hilt) and his embarrassed teenage daughter (pop star Avril Lavigne); and a snarky skunk with attitude (Wanda Sykes who else?). As far as the humans Allison Janney voices a shrieking but vindictive homeowner while the Thomas Haden Church is said Verminator a fat balding but ruthless pest exterminator. What fun! Over the Hedge keeps to the spirit of the popular comic strip by Michael Fry and T. Lewis on which the film is based. The strip focuses on the travails of friends RJ and Verne as they exploit the human world for their own personal gain while sardonically commenting on how messed up it is. Hedge sort of shows how these two might have met and is just a hoot from beginning to end. The images of woodland animal-meets-modern-day people are spot on: RJ’s spiel on how humans get food (“That’s the receptacle to get the food [a phone]...and that’s the tone when the food comes [the doorbell]”); SUVs (“Humans are slowly phasing out walking all together”); the skunk seducing the stupid cat (“I like your smell.”). The best is when Hammy the squirrel getting so hopped up on caffeinated soda the whole world comes to a stand still for him. Side-splitting stuff. Again success in animation comes when you stick with a simple story and create characters everyone can relate to. Plus hilarious dialogue. It’ll work every time.
It was a maverick kind of morning as the nominations for the 2006 Independent Spirit Awards were announced, honoring some of this year’s most affecting, avant garde and anti-studio independent film offerings.
Actress Laura Linney teamed up with Mark Ruffalo--the two co-starred in the acclaimed indie You Can Count On Me in 2000--to announce the nominees at Beverly Hills’ Le Meridian hotel, and despite some challenging tongue-twisting names on the list, they made it through admirably. Linney was rewarded for her trip in from New York with her own nomination as Best Female Lead in The Squid and the Whale.
Ruffalo, meanwhile, seemed to anxiously await his own name being called in the Lead Male and Supporting Male categories, but after he came up empty he suddenly realized: “Oh, I wasn’t in any independent movies this year.”
Several of Linney’s collaborators on The Squid and the Whale, about the painful, messy split of a couple with two sons, fared very well, with nominations going to writer-director Noah Baumbach (Best Director, Best Screenplay), co-stars Jeff Daniels (Best Male Lead) and Jesse Eisenberg (Best Supporting Male) and the film itself was nominated as Best Feature. The film led all nominations with a total of six.
Linney told Hollywood.com that she knew from the moment she finished the screenplay that the project was something extra special: “Noah gave me the script about five years ago, and it took a long time to get it made,” Linney said. “That’s one thing about independent films: you connect yourself to these projects and you don’t know how long it’s going to take to get them made. So when they finally DO get made, and you have to make them under difficult circumstances, always--because the budget is low, you don’t have the time--and then they reach their potential, and then they’re as good as you think they were going to be, as good as your instinct tells you they will be. And then you have a day like today, where there’s nominations and blah, blah, blah. It strengthens your faith in what you do.”
Other high-profile indies scoring multiple noms included stylish, historic look at journalistic principles Good Night and Good Luck (Best Feature, Best Cinematography, George Clooney for Best Director and David Strathairn for Best Male Lead), the gay themed Brokeback Mountain (Best Feature, Ang Lee for Best Director, Michelle Williams for Best Supporting Female and Heath Ledger as Best Lead Male), the insightful biopic Capote (Best Feature, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Philip Seymour Hoffman for Best Male Lead), the Tommy Lee Jones-directed The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (Best Feature, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography and Barry Pepper for Best Supporting Male) and the gender-bending Transamerica (Best First Feature, Best First Screenplay and Felicity Huffman for Best Female Lead)
“It’s really nice for morale,” Linney said of the nominations for all of the indies honored, especially because many of them only get made through perseverance, ingenuity, and commitment--and typically without the big bucks that fuel most studio films.
“Independent film is great fun, but making an independent movie is tough and hard,” she explained. “The hours are rough, the resources are low, you work really, really hard, and so when you hear of a fun, glitzy thing to go to where all of us can celebrate and hoot and holler, it’s really, really nice. It’s also terrific for awareness of these kinds of films, so audiences can be aware of this sort of genre.”
Linney said that those who work in independent film share a bond and welcome any opportunity to meet, bond and share their experiences. “It is a community of people, it really is,” the actress said. “You can look at award shows from a business perspective, but then you can look at them from a community perspective. There is a reason for them other than just acknowledgement of merit for business. There’s also a community of people coming together and being able to run up to the director of the movie that you saw that loved and be able to go ‘Oh my God, you’re amazing.’ And that’s important--and very nice.”
The full list of nominees:
The Squid and the Whale
Good Night, and Good Luck
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
Best Male Lead:
Jeff Daniels, The Squid and the Whale
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote
Terrence Howard, Hustle & Flow
Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain
David Strathairn, Good Night, and Good Luck
Best Female Lead:
Laura Linney, The Squid and the Whale
Felicity Huffman, Transamerica
Dina Korzun, Forty Shades of Blue
S. Epatha Merkerson, Lackawanna Blues
Cyndi Williams, Room
Best Supporting Male:
Firdous Bamji, The War Within
Matt Dillon, Crash
Jesse Eisenberg, The Squid and the Whale
Barry Pepper, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
Jeffrey Wright, Broken Flowers
Best Supporting Female:
Amy Adams, Junebug
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Happy Endings
Allison Janney, Our Very Own
Michelle Williams, Brokeback Mountain
Robin Wright Penn, Nine Lives
Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain
George Clooney, Good Night, and Good Luck
Noah Baumbach, The Squid and the Whale
Gregg Araki, Mysterious Skin
Rodrigo Garcia, Nine Lives
Best First Feature:
Paul Haggis, Crash
George C. Wolfe, Lackawanna Blues
Miranda July, Me and You and Everyone We Know
Mike Mills, Thumbsucker
Duncan Tucker, Transamerica
John Cassavetes Award (feature made for less than $500,000):
The Puffy Chair
Ayad Akhtar, Joseph Castelo and Tom Glynn, The War Within
Guillermo Arriaga, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
Noah Baumbach, The Squid and the Whale
Dan Futterman, Capote
Rodrigo Garcia, Nine Lives
Best First Screenplay:
Kenneth Hanes, Fixing Frank
Miranda July, Me and You and Everyone We Know
Angus MacLachlan, Junebug
Sabina Murray, The Beautiful Country
Duncan Tucker, Transamerica
Robert Elswit, Good Night, and Good Luck
John Foster, Keane
Adam Kimmel, Capote
Chris Menges, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
Harris Savides, Last Days
Best Foreign Film:
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Romania)
Duck Season (Mexico)
Paradise Now (Palestine/Netherlands/Germany/France)
Tony Takitani (Japan)
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
Sir! No Sir!
Top Story: Prosecutor Suggests Michael Jackson May Flee U.S.
The prosecutor in Michael Jackson's child molestation case opposes reducing the pop star's $3 million bail out of concern he might flee the country, The Associated Press reports. Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon's office said Jackson's wealth requires at least the current bail, arguing the singer might choose to live out his life as "a wealthy absconder" rather than face a life term in a California prison. According to the motion filed by Deputy District Attorney Gerald McC. Franklin, there is concern Jackson might flee to a country that doesn't have an extradition agreement with the United States. "Mr. Jackson is known and adored--'adored' is not too strong a word--in many of the countries of Europe, the Near East and Africa," the motion said. "The defendant here is 'Michael Jackson, international celebrity,' a man whose lifestyle to date would not have prepared him to adapt readily to a prison environment and routine, and whose physical stature will present its own problems for him in making the necessary adjustments." In addition to child molestation, a grand jury indicted Jackson with a conspiracy count that alleged child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion.
Posh Stands By Her Man
Former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham says in Marie Claire's July issue that she has faith in her husband, English soccer star David Beckham. "I know my David's never cheated on me," she said in the interview in response to allegations Beckham had affairs with his former personal assistant and a model. The Beckhams recently announced that Victoria--still known as Posh Spice to many fans of the 1990s girl band--and their two children would move to Spain to be with David, who left Manchester United to play for Real Madrid last year. She also denied rumors she stayed with David to make money from the 'Beckham brand.' "I couldn't live a lie and it would be unfair on our children," she said. "We are working on things together, but it is absolutely not a business arrangement."
Sean Combs Didn't Expect Tony Nod for Raisin
Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, who is currently starring in the Broadway revival of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, told Reuters in a recent telephone interview he isn't bothered being the only star in the production not to get a Tony Award nomination. "I didn't expect to get nominated. That was not my motivation. I'm very realistic as a person about life and how you have to pay your dues and about the level I'm at as an actor. I have my time for awards," Combs said, adding: "There's nothing that can compare to people laughing about you for something and then every night, standing room only." Initial ticket sales for A Raisin in the Sun broke the 1,078-seat Royale Theatre record and routinely sells out.
Combs Goes From B'way To Politics
In other "P. Diddy" news, Combs told the New York Post Sunday he hopes to question President Bush and likely Democratic nominee John Kerry on his new MTV show, tentatively titled Project Change. The 34-year-old hip-hop impresario told the paper he plans to scout the streets of Harlem, Brooklyn and Detroit for "real people" to ask the questions. "The people who usually ask the candidates questions are screened, and I'm going to use real people off the streets to get their questions out there," Combs told The Post. "I'm going to make Kerry and Bush squirm." His goal is to encourage a record number of young people and minorities to vote.
Helen Hunt Has Baby Girl
Mad About You star Helen Hunt gave birth to a daughter on May 13 in Beverly Hills, Calif., Reuters reports. The baby, named MaKena lei Gordon Carnahan, is the first child for Hunt and director Matthew Carnahan. The couple began dating in 2001. The 40-year-old actress and her baby are "doing very well," her publicist said Friday.
Kirk, Anne Douglas Renew Wedding Vows
Anne and Kirk Douglas renewed their wedding vows for the second time in 50 years Sunday before 300 guests in a traditional Jewish ceremony at the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, Calif., the AP reports. Guests included former First Lady Nancy Reagan, Merv Griffin, Dan Aykroyd, Lauren Bacall, Tony Curtis, Vidal Sassoon and Anjelica Huston. Family members included the Douglas' son Peter and Kirk Douglas' son, producer Joel Douglas, from his first marriage. Actors Eric and Michael Douglas were unable to attend. A publicist for Kirk Douglas said Michael Douglas was with his wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones, who is currently filming in Europe.
24 Whittles Cast for Upcoming Season
The Counter Terrorism Unit on Fox's drama 24 is getting its pink slip. Sources tell Reuters the actors who play Jack Bauer's (Kiefer Sutherland) CTU colleagues have been informed that their options as series regulars will not be picked up for the upcoming fall season. That includes Reiko Aylesworth and James Badge Dale, who play CTU members Michelle Dessler and Chase Edmunds. The two could return could return next season for guest appearances, along with Carlos Bernard, Zachary Quinto and Daniel Dae Kim, who played CTU members on a recurring basis. Elisha Cuthbert, who plays Jack's daughter and CTU analyst Kimberly Bauer, is expected to return next season.
Death Row Must Pay for Man's Injuries
Death Row Records was ordered to pay more than $162,000 to a man who said label owner Marion "Suge" Knight and his bodyguards attacked him at a recording studio in 2001, the AP reports. A Superior Court jury ruled that although Knight, who was not in the studio during the altercation, was not personally liable for the fight, Death Row Records was responsible for the actions of his security guards. Dwayne H. Baudy said he went to Con Am Studios in November of 2001 to meet an independent rap producer when he and a friend got into a confrontation with Death Row's security chief, Reginald Wright Jr. Wright said Baudy and his friend brandished guns after they were barred
The animated Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas has all the great adventure of the story wrapped up in a sappy little package for the kiddies. Taken from the ancient tales of the Arabian Nights Sinbad is a rogue who cares only about what is in his and his crew's best interest--and little else. As the film begins he unsuccessfully tries to steal the Book of Peace--which keeps order in the world--from his childhood best friend Proteus the Prince of Syracuse who is sailing to the city to return the sacred book. Although the two are estranged it's clear they still have a kinship. When the Book of Peace is actually stolen by Eris the goddess of chaos she frames Sinbad for the theft. Proteus stands up for his friend and makes the council give Sinbad one chance to find and return the precious book or Proteus will die on his behalf. Disbelieving the threat the pirate decides to blow the whole thing off but Proteus' beautiful betrothed Marina who has stowed away on Sinbad's ship has other plans. Marina has Sinbad's crew on her side and it could turn mutinous if the guy doesn't fulfill the mission. OK so he'll go get the book. Eris doesn't make it easy for our reluctant hero--dispatching both monstrous creatures and the elements to do battle along the way. But ultimately the brave Sinbad learns a few life lessons falls in love and wins out by following his heart. Aww!
See what a little success in the animated world can get you? These days an animated film can demand the attention of any A-list actor to provide the voices not just your occasional Robin Williams. We have Finding Nemo with the voices of Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres and now Sinbad which attracted huge names such as Brad Pitt (Sinbad) Catherine Zeta-Jones (Marina) Michelle Pfeiffer (Eris) and Joseph Fiennes (Proteus). It could also be the fact DreamWorks' animation king Jeffrey Katzenberg has the clout to rope them all in. Pitt as Sinbad is roguishly clever infusing the pirate with the requisite amount mischievousness and rebellion while Zeta-Jones provides the adventurous Marina with the right amount of bravado and vulnerability. Fiennes as the stiff but honorable Proteus is fine but you can tell right away who has the most fun with her character; Pfeiffer's Eris is a pure delight in sound as well as sight. She is able to take her Catwoman persona from Batman Returns and elevate it to a well celestial level. In the supporting roles Dennis Haysbert does a nice job as Sinbad's right-hand man Kale as does Adriano Giannini the son of legendary actor Giancarlo Giannini as the ship's lookout Rat. Kudos all around for a job well done.
As a self-proclaimed fan of those cheesy 1970s Sinbad movies including The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger--where the stop-motion special effects of wizard Ray Harryhausen made it all worthwhile--the idea of an animated version of Sinbad seems perfectly fitted for the genre. Now the mythical creatures could be fully realized in vivid Technicolor where the DreamWorks' animators spare no expense in providing their own visions of things such as sirens sea monsters and giant birds of prey. The artwork for Eris is a particular stroke of genius with the flowing black hair and beautifully evil features; the film definitely comes alive when she is onscreen. As well the action sequences are as exciting as any car chase or gun battle you'll see in a live-action film. The drawback for the adults is the film's slightly schmaltzy story about friendship and of course true love. It's not entirely clear why computer-animated films such as Shrek and Finding Nemo are now becoming the only animated films that appeal to everyone adults and kids alike. It used to be traditional hand-drawn classics such as The Little Mermaid and The Lion King did the trick but now it seems animated films need only provide spectacular visuals--without a great story and snappy dialogue to back them up.