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.
Top Story: The End of the Road for "Raymond"?
Say it isn't so! Comedian Ray Romano is dropping hints that the ninth season of his hit CBS comedy Everybody Loves Raymond may be its last. Romano, who attended a concert Saturday in Las Vegas to benefit the Tiger Woods Foundation, joked about how he keeps the series fresh and original: "You stop after one more year." The comedian credited his writers for always drawing on their own lives and bringing new material to the show, but said it's hard work. "You start to repeat yourself," Romano, 45, told The Associated Press. "The trick is to get out when you're still wanted--not too soon, but not too late."
Juliette Lewis Files for Divorce
Natural Born Killers star Juliette Lewis has filed for divorce from her husband of nearly four years, professional skateboarder Steve Berra. Lewis' publicist told the AP Thursday "the divorce is mutual and amicable." It was Lewis' first marriage. The 29-year-old actress was nominated for an Oscar for playing a teenager stalked by a deranged convict in the 1991 remake of Cape Fear.
Buscemi Protests Close of NY Firehouse
Actor Steve Buscemi joined about 50 demonstrators in New York Saturday to protest Mayor Michael Bloomberg's cost cutting proposal to close eight firehouses. Buscemi, who starred in films such as Fargo and Reservoir Dogs, was a New York City firefighter from 1980 to 1984. Bloomberg said last week at least 30 more might have to be closed if the city does not receive state or federal to close a $3.4 billion budget deficit, the AP reports.
Dangerfield Moved From ICU
Rodney Dangerfield was moved from the UCLA Medical Center's intensive care unit to a private room Friday, the AP reports. The comedian's publicist said he might be allowed to go home in the next few days if he continues to recover. Dangerfield, 81, underwent a 12-hour brain surgery April 8 to improve his blood flow for an upcoming heart valve replacement, tentatively planned for late May.
Grammys, American Music Awards Change Dates
The 2004 Grammys are switching from its usual late-February date to Sunday, Feb. 8 to avoid a head-on collision with the Academy Awards, which will move next year from March to late February. Billboard reports that next year's Grammys are also expected to return to L.A. after this year's stint in New York. The American Music Awards, meanwhile, are set to move from early January to Nov. 16, 2003 so the show can air during sweeps. In its January slot, the AMAs found itself competing with too many awards shows.
Pop Stars Unite for Iraqi Children
Pop stars including Paul McCartney, George Michael, David Bowie and Avril Lavigne released an album Monday to raise money for child war victims in Iraq, Reuters reports. Profits from the album will go to War Child, a relief and development charity set up after the war in former Yugoslavia. The charity said the album, Hope, was not political. "The plight of children transcends politics. These songs are a plea for hope without which the children of Iraq have nothing at all."
New Museum Dedicated to Science Fiction
A museum dedicated to the art, literature and film of science entertainment is set to open in Seattle thanks to billionaire Paul Allen. Tentatively named the Science Fiction Experience, the exhibit is slated to open in the summer of 2004 in Allen's Experience Music Project (EMP). Visitors can expect to see science fiction props, including Captain Kirk's original command chair from the Star Trek TV series, a complete set of autographed first editions of the Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov and a collection of Astounding Science Fiction magazines and artwork depicting the future.
Blacklisted Actress Karen Morley Dies
Actress Karen Morley, who starred in early 1930's movies such as Mata Hari and Dinner at Eight, died of pneumonia on March 8 at the Motion Picture Country House in Woodland Hills, Calif., the AP reports. She was 93. Morley's film career was cut short in 1947 when she testified before the House Committee on Un-American Activities and refused to answer questions about her possible enrollment in the Communist Party. Afterward, she continued promoting left-wing causes and, in 1954, ran unsuccessfully as a New York lieutenant governor candidate for the American Labor Party.
Quintessential Western "Shane" Turns 50
Paramount Pictures premiered the Western Shane starring Alan Ladd 50 years ago this week in New York, the AP reports. The cowboy pic, based on a 1949 book by Jack Schaefer, went into general release over a five-month period and garnered six Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture. It only won one for cinematography (Loyal Griggs). Shane follows a disillusioned gunfighter who becomes an unwilling participant in a feud between an old ranching family and new homesteaders. It is told through the eyes of the son of a family that takes Shane in and famously ends with Shane riding off after he's been shot in the climactic gunfight with the boy hollering "Shane ... Shane ... come back!"
Role Call: Silverstone Joins "Scooby-Doo" Sequel
Alicia Silverstone, best known as Cher in the 1995 hit Clueless, will star opposite Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze Jr., Matthew Lillard, Linda Cardellini and Seth Green in Warner Bros.' Scooby-Doo sequel for director Raja Gosnell. Silverstone will play a relentless reporter named Heather. The sequel begins shooting April 14 in Vancouver and is slated for release March 26, 2004.