Movie Madness: Reviews of March’s Cinematic Picks

Jeff, Who Lives at Home
This unexpected little comedy begins with the title character, played by a predictably schleppy Jason Segel, monologuing about his religious devotion to M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, a movie that preaches that fate lies in coincidences. It’s a mantra that dictate’s Jeff ‘s daily routine: zone out in mom’s basement and wait for something cosmic to happen. That something turns out to be a phone call—a wrong number, no less— that sets Jeff on a quest for higher purpose. But before any catharsis can be had, Jeff runs into his blowhard brother (Ed Helms) at the local Hooters, and gets tangled up in his marital woes. (This, of course, is all meant to be.) Together, they embark on an odyssey of mutual self-discovery, while in a parallel story, their mother (Susan Sarandon) chases epiphanies of her own in what feels like a separate movie. Directors Mark and Jay Duplass (Cyrus), who once worked within the boundaries of nanobudget filmmaking, are now being bankrolled by Paramount, and they’ve got the dramatic and uplifting climax to justify it. Tears will be shed in the audience and on the screen, but in less than 90 minutes, they’re admirably earned.Ben Barna

The Deep Blue Sea
After a decade stuck in financial gridlock, Terence Davies, the embattled hero of British art cinema, returns with this adaptation of the 1952 Terence Rattigan play, a story of repressed passions in a postwar England where even kisses must be rationed. Rachel Weisz gives a luminous performance as Hester, a tortured housewife who leaves her paternalistic husband (played by the portly Simon Russell Beale) for a hot-headed RAF pilot (Tom Hiddleston) still struggling to re-enter a society that no longer needs him. But Hester needs him, and Davies artfully studies the complexities she faces, trading in a life of comfort for transcendent sex (and a tiny room in a boarding house). Nods to melodramas from the ’40s and ’50s adorn the film, as do Davies’ own signature touches: pub sing-alongs, lyrical tracking shots, and of course, that shockingly floral wallpaper. For the director who won admiration through authentic portrayals of postwar Liverpool, it’s a triumphant return to form. But while his earlier films were as personal—and structurally free—as a family album, the tale of doomed passion at the bottom of The Deep Blue Sea risks becoming a touch too hoary, even as self-conscious homage, to be fully satisfying.Josh Sperling

Casa de Mi Padre
They say you aren’t fluent in a foreign language until you can tell a joke in it, so you’ve got to admire Will Ferrell for having the guts to try. The concept behind Casa de mi Padre—and no, not just the title is in Spanish—has the potential for brilliance: export the actor’s trademark deadpan to a Mexico of rancheros, drug traffickers, and telenovela romance. Ferrell plays the dim-witted Armando Alvarez. When his brother Raul (Diego Luna) returns home with a curvy new fiancée (Genesis Rodriguez) and shady schemes to save the family hacienda, the brothers find themselves at war with a vicious kingpin (Gael García Bernal), and with each other, over a woman’s heart. Ferrell has made a career parachuting straight-faced into quotidian scenes and mopping up the laughs. But Casa mines its humor from a new and risky place: the world of the subtitle. There is a reason foreign films are so serious—jokes don’t translate to that sullen font on the bottom of the screen. It’s no surprise then that the best gags in the film rely purely on physical slapstick. What is surprising is how hilarious Bernal and Luna can be hamming it up as narcotraficantes in alligator boots. But when Ferrell tells a DEA agent, “not all Mexicans are drugtraffickers,” you realize that the only one who isn’t a drug trafficker is, well, a gringo.JS

Despite its charms, French filmmakers David and Stéphane Foenkinos’ debut effort is undermined by a rote script, which relies too much on Audrey Tautou’s star power to prop it up. Adapted from David’s novel of the same name, Delicacy has bursts of whimsy in an otherwise familiar tale. Nathalie (Tatou) and François (Pio Marmaï) meet and fall irreversibly in love, until he is suddenly (but somehow not) rubbed out in a freak accident. The rest of the film traces Nathalie’s recovery efforts as it hops three years into the future, and we rediscover her as a grim careerist. Soon, she clumsily falls for a relatively unattractive Swede (François Damiens), who, let’s be honest, is a few leagues beneath her. (She’s damaged yes, but she’s also Audrey Tatou.) There’s a strange lack of passion for a movie about it, and its two leads never seem to fully connect. We hate to get down on a film with a core that is hopeful, sweet, and easy to swallow, but after digesting it, we’re still left feeling hungry.Hillary Weston

Being Flynn
Nick Flynn’s book Another Bullshit Night in Suck City was, as its title (sort of) implies, a gritty, honest look at homelessness and addiction in America, as seen through the eyes of the author and his father—eventually. They reconnect when the elder Flynn checks into the Boston shelter where his son is employed. Paul Weitz’s film adaptation has a sanitized title and is ultimately a sterile biopic, filled with a predicable story arc and done-to-death voiceover from both Nick and Jonathan Flynn (played by Paul Dano and Robert De Niro, respectively). Neither Nick nor Jonathan are portrayed as being completely moral or despicable, and their equal footing keeps the film from veering into sanctimonious territory. Being Flynn boasts an impressive supporting cast that includes Julianne Moore as Nick’s mother and Olivia Thirlby as his co-worker and girlfriend. Both shine as underused characters who serve primarily as feminine inspirations for Nick’s ultimate maturation. While the film doesn’t add much to the canon of movies chronicling troubled father-son relationships, it does feature a surprisingly lighthearted soundtrack by Badly Drawn Boy, who famously wrote music for Weitz’s About a Boy.Tyler Coates

Tragic in tone and scattered in execution, Tony Kaye’s latest film feels more like you’re being emotionally gutted than mentally stimulated. With an ensemble cast of Hollywood vets, from Blythe Danner to James Caan, it’s the actors’ commitment to the work and their brief but dynamic performances that supersede the lackluster script. Detachment tells the story of Henry Barthes (brilliantly played by a weary-eyed Adrien Brody), a downtrodden substitute teacher who takes a temporary position at a failing high school. Barthes, a somber man plagued by flashbacks of his mother’s suicide, is an empathetic and gifted teacher, desperately trying to connect to his students while dealing with his dying grandfather and the teenage prostitute he’s taken in. Shot by Kaye himself, the film cuts between the narrative, interviews with Barthes, and morose animated blackboard drawings used to illustrate darker urges. Ultimately, the film doesn’t know whether to be a scathing critique of the public school system or the story of one man’s struggle to find meaning. Kaye has a lot to say but never fully realizes his point, creating a passionately bleak drama that throws it all in your face, one painful blow at a time.HW

The Raid
Not only does The Raid push the body count of Asian action cinema to new heights, but it also moves the genre south, leaving the skyscrapers of the usual tiger economies behind in favor of a rundown, crime-infested tenement deep in the Jakarta slums. With its main course of unadulterated violence, this is Die Hard for the gaming generation, with just enough of a premise—a SWAT mission gone awry, a fresh-faced rookie, brothers on opposite sides of the law—to take us from one scene of carnage to the next. And like any first-person shooter, the hero literally levels up from floor to floor, boss to boss, moving from guns to serrated knives to machetes, and finally, to some proper hand-to-hand combat. Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda provides an amped-up soundtrack, while the Welsh-born, Indonesia-based director Gareth Evans strikes a thrilling balance between masterful martial-arts choreography and the more helter-skelter rawness at the adrenalized heart of the film. And despite our hero’s assured survival, Evans builds a claustrophobic dread so powerful that when the tension suddenly snaps, it’s about as visceral as movies get.JS

The Lady
Aung San Suu Kyi has given up her family and freedom to advocate on behalf of the people of Burma, who have languished under the rule of a military dictatorship for half a century. While under house arrest, Suu Kyi ignited a fervent democratic movement that may finally be producing meaningful reforms in the country, making this a perfect time for French filmmaker Luc Besson to unveil his powerful and moving biopic of the Nobel laureate. The Lady follows her from her childhood in Rangoon, which is rent by the murder of her highly respected father, to her life as a wife and mother of two boys in England, to her return to Burma in 1988, where she immediately becomes the brightest hope for a people who have known nothing but poverty, fear, and isolation under the junta. Filled with gorgeously shot scenes of the Rangoon skyline and the lilting palms and shimmering waters of her dilapidated lake house, the film is a deft take through Suu Kyi᾽s inspiring life. Michelle Yeoh’s remarkable embodiment of the opposition leader is uncanny, and the depiction of her relationship with her English husband Michael Aris (David Thewlis) is heartbreaking, as he suffers and dies of cancer while being denied a visa to visit his wife one last time. The Lady gives viewers a deep appreciation of a long, relentless, and agonizingly slow struggle that may well be on the brink of success. Its message is simple: If your cause is just, never, ever give up.Victor Ozols

Adrien Brody & Tony Kaye Discuss Their New Film ‘Detachment’

Tony Kaye and Adrien Brody make a perfect coupling: an acclaimed Oscar-winner known for taking on difficult and harrowing roles and one of Hollywood’s most controversial directors who makes films that not only brutally inform but possess. With their new film, Detachment, they both prove their immense strength in their craft, creating a powerful film that challenges one’s emotional strength and enlightens. The film tells the story of Henry Barthes, a downtrodden substitute teacher who takes a temporary position at a high school in shambles. Barthes, a somber man plagued by flashbacks of his mother’s suicide, is an empathetic and gifted teacher, desperately trying to connect to his students while dealing with his dying grandfather and the teenage prostitute he’s taken in. Shot by Kaye himself, the film cuts between the narrative, interviews with Barthes, and morose animated blackboard drawings used to illustrate everyone’s darker urges. It’s a scathing portrayal of the public school system as well as one man’s story to find meaning in a vicious world. We caught up with Brody and Kaye to find out what drew them to this film, their shared desire for a deeper sense of entertainment, and the state of Hollywood today.

How did you come across the script and why did you decide to do it?
Tony Kaye: I was just attracted to the language of it. When I look at scripts, I’m quite visual in a sense, and I look at the pages and through all the speeches. I like that kind of thing. When I see great big chunks, I think, This is good! If I see loads of pages where there’s just one line here or one line there, I’m not very interested. Of course, that’s a stupid and idiotic thing to say, but when I read it, the poetics of the language of Carl [Lund]’s script really made me want to try and get this film made — and I spent five years trying to get the film made. It gave me the opportunity to tell a story about a character, one in particular which I like. I prefer those kinds of movies to ensemble casts, although we do have that here. It’s definitely a glossary about the character of Henry Barthes.
Adrien Brody: [I was attracted to] its intensity and its relevance to the importance of education. The importance of kindness and patience are things that are easy to forget with all of the other pressures that we have in life. My father was a public school teacher and a great one at that, so I partially did this as an homage to him and how valuable that is. Not only how much it shaped me and my life, but also what a contribution it is.

How did you know that you wanted Adrien for the role?
TK: Oh, that was a lucky break. I mean, there’s no such thing as something just happening or it being just “luck.” Our paths collided, and we got on tremendously as people, and we trusted each other and both appreciated each other’s style of working. The collaboration between the two of us is what set the tempo. He knew and he believed me that I was going to make the movie entirely about him. A director’s interpretation of a script can sometimes change the entire thing.

Was there something about your character that drew you to him?
AB: I was attracted to a number of things. First of all, I wanted to work with Tony. He had such an interesting, colorful past and is so unusual, so I knew it was going to be an interesting experience. He’s wonderful to work with — incredibly collaborative and creative. And the writing was so good. Carl Lund wrote a beautiful script, and unfortunately it’s hard to find meaningful stuff out there.

Did you see yourself in your character at all?
AB: Yeah, of course. I am fortunately less volatile than he is, but I can relate to anger and frustration and that simmering beneath the surface.

What I found interesting about him was that he was so damaged and he had so much pain, but he allowed himself to have those emotions.
AB: Well, he is closed off He’s so broken and fragile and teetering on collapse, yet, at the same time, he’s compelled to share and inspire. I’m sure he sees many parallels between himself and the broken children that he has to provide some guidance for. What I love about it is, although he reluctantly does all this, that’s what saves him; his generosity saves himself because if he just remained isolated and shut off from it all he’d wither away.

Tony, your films are always so socially conscious and mix entertainment with some greater meaning or enlightenment. I understand why it’s important to do films of this nature and give something that’s more than just entertainment, but what’s your perspective on it? 
TK: The purpose of living and the only way we can exist in any form is to try and bring light to help mankind in some way — to be proactive. I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to, in a manner of speaking, live out this dream of being a communicator of sorts. I hope this is now given me a career — that I can regularly make movies one after the other now. Whatever they may be, I’m looking for the importance. Not to preach, but to try and engage and make somebody — in this case, some really bright kid — want to teach or help somebody.

Adrien, as an actor, do you feel the need to tell these sort of stories — to do something socially relevant that’s not just entertaining?
AB: Yes. Not a responsibility in the sense that I have to because, you know, I don’t feel somebody else has to. If they’re an actor, they do whatever they want to do. If you’re a songwriter, you can sing whatever you want to sing about. What inspires me is something a bit more meaningful than entertainment. And I also really appreciate what I’ve learned from being asked to represent such meaningful and significant things that have affected us historically. It’s changed my whole level of awareness and outlook as a man, my appreciation for my own good fortune, and our blessed lives and the degree of freedom we have here as Americans. It’s an amazing thing, and you only gain that insight from deeply immersing yourself in other people’s struggles. Unless you’re studying abroad [and immersed in] those cultures, it’s very hard to gain that by just reading about it or picking up a magazine article. But if you’ve forced yourself into a place that is unpleasant, you can tell it more faithfully and can also come back to your life with a greater awareness and empathy.

Tony, do you try not to impose your own point-of-view and step away to give a broad overview of the subject that you’re covering, or do you think it’s important to put your own view in there as well?
TK: I believe in trying to be a cause and not an effect. My choice in being a cause is to often be upset. My point-ofview is not relevant; my point-of-view is only relevant in terms of the quality of acting — that’s my choice. I didn’t write it, I’m not the actor. With Lake of Fire, my second film, I made a movie about the abortion debate in the United States, and I have a massive feeling and choice about what I think is right in that zone, but it’s of no importance other than that I chose to spend 16 years working on it. My choice is to be something that light goes through, and then I channel it in the best and most graphic way that I possibly can.

Adrien, did you spend time in schools for the role?
AB: We were in a public school, and I went to public school so it brought back a lot of memories. It’s like a bad smell; you end up remembering so much from it. You shoot in a relatively drab school, sitting in a classroom as you wait and study your lines, and a few people from the administration are there and the janitor, and the series of urinals. It just brings it all back.

How long were you shooting for?
AB: Twenty days. It was hard. It’s a short amount of time, and it’s challenging to make great films in 20 days. There’s no room for error.

When you have that short amount of time you really have to become your character. When you go home at night, how do you not carry your character’s struggle with you? 
AB: I don’t intentionally try and stay in character, but if you have a great deal of material to absorb and specifics and style of writing that you have to be careful with, you have to study. You work very long hours and then come home, and there’s really no time to do much else. You’re basically immersed in it the whole time. I spent a lot of time alone with that and [being] silent. It’s intense it’s like a mediation or something, it’s very weird.

There were so many themes and issues and really hard-hitting, penetrating moments in the film. Were you worried at all, Tony, that it felt a little a heavy at times?
TK: It’s a real onslaught, but I tried to make it as poetic and as beautiful to make it palatable. I didn’t show anything; I just intuit.

Adrien, you and Sami Gayle have such a great chemistry together. Did you spend a lot of time together before you shot?
AB: No, no. She just possesses a wonderful fearlessness and enthusiasm and emotional intelligence that’s rare for a young girl. She’s so focused, and it was easy to collaborate with her.

There’s a hopefulness to it but there’s just so much pain in it also. Did you feel that way when you first read the script?
AB: Oh yeah, I cried when I first read the script. It’s very sad. There’s a slim little crack to get that light through all of that bleakness, but you need that. You need to show a relatively dark depiction of all this or you don’t awaken the understanding that you need to make some changes and do better.

Tony, why did you choose to include the interludes of animations?
TK: It’s a very disjointed, very dysfunctional, and very chaotic assemblage which is not too different from life — that was my choice. I thought that the blackboard should speak, that it should say something. I have a sort of massive apprenticeship; I’ve made eight billion TV commercials and hundreds of music videos, but I haven’t been making movies. I’ve been working with the techniques of motion picture and sound for 30 years, so I have a lot of tricks I can do so I wanted to use them. [With Detachment], I just needed to throw everything and the kitchen sink to the wall.

Adrien, what was your reaction the first time you saw the film completed? There’s all the animations and different things throughout it that shape it.
AB: I’m very impressed with Tony. I’m very moved by the film, and it was very brave and unusual filmmaking. That doesn’t really exist much today. I don’t know a film that’s like this. It’s great to be a part of that and I think he made a wonderful, honest, and proactive film.

Why do you think there’s not much room for this sort of film today?
AB: People produce movies because it’s a business, and you want a safe return on your investment. You can make things that are in-your-face and challenging and force the audience to think, and it’s unpredictable. It takes a certain degree of bravery to want to make movies like that. I think that’s the big issue, and that’s why there are so many very superficial movies out there. It’s easier to appeal to a mass audience and not require much thought and it’s a safer return on the investment. It’s a challenge to have art and commerce meet and find that balance and have a greater impact rather than just creating entertainment.

Tony, how do you find that things have changed greatly since you began filmmaking? 
TK: Things have definitely changed — there’s the internet, better special effects, and the ability now to make a life-like character on the screen without using a human being. But it was my passion and my choice to turn my back on all that. I’ve been left behind a little bit by some of my peers who have all become massively, incredibly well-known movie-makers. My choice was not to do any tricks, but to focus on the camera and the performances of people involved. That was my canvas I decided to work with many, many years ago. I’ve been overtaken by all these things, but with the success — however small — of Detachment, hopefully when other actors see the great performances from Adrien, Sami Gayle, Lucy Lu, and James Caan, to name a few, I’m praying they’ll think, Well I wouldn’t mind working with this guy.

There was so much controversy surrounded American History X and it’s become a film that everyone knows and appreciates–how do you feel about now that so much time has passed.
TK: I gave everything I had to that movie. I put in my own money and went bankrupt as a result of that film for my own crazy actions. But my biggest upset was that I fell out with the lead actor. And it was my fault. It was a desire for myself and myself alone. I just felt so embarrassed and ashamed by that, and I kind of went mad. I couldn’t understand it. In a way I’m very proud of what we did, and why shouldn’t I be? It’s lasted and it’s still current. If it came out this week, it would be good. In fact, if it came out this week it would be better than it was then because it would not seem like a big budget movie. It was a 10-million-dollar film. It was a big-budget movie but was still made and built in a very gritty and realistic way. Movies weren’t like that then when it came out. So I’m very proud of it and it made me even more determined not to make the same mistakes.

‘Detachment’ Pits Adrien Brody vs. the Education System

The public school system has always been a reliable reservoir of liberal angst, what with the low funding and the casually coded racism/classism and completely tangled burueaucracy. There’s a lot to get mad about! Detachment, starring Oscar winner Adrien Brody, will attempt to put a personal face on that frustration. Brody plays a substitute teacher trying to avoid connecting to his students, which becomes difficult when he’s placed at a school where everything is farkakte. Directed by American History X‘s Tony Kaye, it seems an easy bet to provoke something out of your ooey-gooey moviegoing heart.

You know what’s a good sign things aren’t going to turn out so nicely? The trailer opens with Isiah Whitlock Jr. (scuzzy politician Clay Davis on The Wire) giving a syrupy speech about how underappreciated teachers are. There’s not much else to say: the photography looks good, the actors look emotive, it swells and cuts in the right places and there’s a nice credit sequence where you can gawk at all the big names involved (James Caan!). Why not?

Most notably, it’ll try to reactivate Kaye’s dormant career, as he hasn’t had any big projects since American History X. Though this trailer shows some similar bursts of pretension ("A Tony Kaye Talkie, really?) it’ll be interesting to see what he’s got to say. You might remember this interview with The Telegraph from a few years ago in which he talked at length about how he fell out of favor with Hollywood following the success of AHX. "Listen," he told them. "I did a lot of very insane things. A lot of very, very, very insane things." Oh word?

Detachment comes out in theaters on March 16th, but it’ll be available via iTunes on February 24.

Tony Kaye Returns (Again) with ‘Detachment’

Earlier this morning, I came across a press release for a new movie called Detachment. About to skip it—every morning I come across a press release for a new movie—I saw the name Tony Kaye and continued reading. Tony Kaye has been a fascination of mine since the release of his 1998 feature directorial debut, American History X, which devolved into a messy battle between Kaye, the film’s star, Edward Norton, and the film’s studio, New Line, over final cut. Specifically, Kaye was enraged to find that 15 minutes of footage had been tacked on to the end of the film when it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Of the spectacle, a proud Kaye told me a few years ago, “I don’t know if it was the biggest, but it was certainly the most publicized Hollywood battle over a cut, ever.”

Things then got weird for Kaye: he was essentially blacklisted in Hollywood; he tried to change his name, unsuccessfully, to Humpty Dumpty after New Line refused to take his name off the film’s billing; he started an acting class with Marlon Brando, but they too fell out after Kaye showed up on the first day’s seminar dressed as Osama Bin Laden; at one point, he stopped talking on the phone altogether, soliciting strangers to make calls for him from public telephones.

He returned triumphant to the big screen with 2006’s Lake of Fire, a searing three-hour documentary about abortion. It was well received and perfectly constructed, but it didn’t put him back on the map as a major filmmaker. That might change with Detachment.

The film stars Oscar winner Adrien Brody as Henry Barthes, a substitute teacher and drifter who never stays at one school long enough to grow attached to its staff and students. It also stars Marcia Gay Harden (herself an Academy darling), Christina Hendricks (whose chops I’m curious to see in a full-on dramatic feature role), Bryan Cranston (of Breaking Bad), Lucy Liu, Blythe Danner, James Caan, Betty Kaye (Tony’s daughter!), and Tim Blake Nelson (who recently directed Kaye’s nemesis, Edward Norton, in Leaves of Grass). This is how you stage a comeback. The film is currently shooting in Queens and Long Island.

Until we have more on Detachment, I’ll leave you with something Kaye told me, perhaps the most interesting thing any film type has ever told me. When I asked him about falling to pieces in public, and about losing his credibility for a time, I suggested that perhaps it was all a game, something he himself was cultivating. Kaye replied, “That’s right. That’s 100% right! As a dramatist, not having the fortune to be an actor, I did it in real life. And that can be cataclysmic. But to be honest, it was tremendously good fun. I don’t drink, and I don’t take drugs, so it’s not as if I didn’t know what I was doing. I knew perfectly well what I was doing. Every step of the way, I knew what I was doing. What eventually happened though was, ‘Shit, I really want to be working. And shit, maybe I’m never going to be able to do that again.’ I was wrong. I sold my soul—wait, I didn’t sell my soul to the Devil. I had become the Devil.”