Sunday, 30 June 2013


Title: Detachment
Director: Tony Kaye
Released: 2011
Starring: Adrian Brody, Sami Gayle, James Cann, Lucy Liu, Betty Kaye, Christina Hendricks, Marcia Gay Harden, Bryan Cranston and Blythe Danner

Plot: Chronicling of three weeks in the lives of several high school teachers, administrators and students through the eyes of a substitute teacher Henry Barthes (Brody).

Review: Tony Kaye has had something of a troubled history when it has comes to his feature film projects with his astounding debut “American History X” suffering from considerable studio interference leading Kaye to disown the final cut, while failing to have his name removed from the film. With no copy of Kaye’s preferred cut in known existence it remains to be seen which was the stronger version. Meanwhile Kaye’s second feature “Black Water Transit” would also suffer from studio issues when the production company went bankrupt during filming, leaving it unfinished alongside projects by Taylor Hackford and David O Russell. Now finally after what seems like an eternity we finally get a new film from Kaye as he turns his attention to the decline of the education system in American high schools and the struggle facing substitute teacher Henry Barthes (Brody), who is still determined to reach out to the disillusioned and often unteachable students, while his fellow teachers try to cope in their own ways with the stresses of their daily routine. At the same time Henry is also attempting to save a teenage prostitute Erica (Gayle) from a life on the streets, as he tries to take what he teaches out of the classroom.

Opening with interview footage with whom I assume are real teachers, sharing their views on teaching, aswell as what drew them to the profession, while this is intercut with this real life black and white footage we have colour footage of Henry, speaking almost confession ally about his own situation. Still despite the odds being stacked against him, with students who couldn’t care less about their educational prospects, while his fellow staff have largely given up or switched to a diet of cynicism, dark humour or “Happy Pills” with many just about ready to crack from the pressure cooker the school has become and yet Henry refuses to quit. Meanwhile outside of his classes, his outside life provides even less shelter from the daily issues, as he constantly has to deal with neglectful care home staff supposedly looking after his senile grandfather, while he lives out of a minimalist apartment and still despite these additional stresses, he remains focused on trying to save these kids, who everyone else has seemingly turned their back on.

Now please don’t start thinking that this is another bad class turned around by one good teacher kind of movie, as Kaye expands the focus beyond the classroom and often the school itself to paint a grim picture of society as a whole rather than just the failings and shortcomings of the public school system, as we are shown scenes like a hauntingly empty parents night were teacher sit in empty classrooms waiting for parents who will never come, no doubt having seemingly left the schools to raise their delinquent children. Even the moments of supposed colour in this dark world such as Henrys attempts to reach out to an outcast student (played by Kaye’s own daughter Betty) or even his attempt to save Erica are ultimately set to be swallowed by the darkness as it soon becomes about seeing what will finally make Henry crack.

Showing real confidence in terms of storytelling Kaye, thinks nothing of cutting away to scenes of other teachers trying to deal with the situation which surrounds them, with James Cann’s manically grinning jester Mr Seaboldt, twisting the obsenity riddled words of a student or addressing another’s questionable sense of school attire providing several of the films standout moments, much like Lucy Liu’s guidance councillor who finally cracks when faced with a teen with a highly delusional sense of reality and causing her to berating the teen with a bleak prophesy of their future, as she scream uselessly at them

“You will NOT be a model! You will forever be on a carousel, competing with 80% of the country for a minimum wage job for the rest of your life!”

True at times it can seem like a cameo fest, especially with Kaye casting Christina Hendricks, Marcia Gay Harden, Bryan Cranston and Blythe Danner, but I’m hardly complaining when their performances are often so suitably raw and believable.

Brody meanwhile is truly believable throughout, as he continues his recent chain of great performances, only making me wonder why he is still overlooked as an actor, with this film only adding further fuel to the argument, as he delivers monologues to his class in the hope that they will finally realise the importance of getting an education, while even the subtle way he handles an initial aggressive confrontation with one of his students to trashing his classroom after being accused of misconduct by a fellow teacher, it is really hard to find fault here, with the ones I could find such as him the subplot involving Erica coming off at times more than a little unlikely, being more in relation to the script rather than his performances.

While it might not paint the most rosy of pictures of the day to day life of teachers, it at least attempts to end on a positive note, with Henry reading the opening to “The House of Usher” as the camera moves surreally through an abandoned school, leaving the audience with the impression that there is still hope left for the situation. Still it remains a triumphant follow up to “American History X” and while perhaps slightly harder to watch, it hopefully marks the start of a new beginning for Kaye as a feature film director as this is bold and exciting film making at its best.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Mixtape Movies: The Suprise Badass Mixtape

Over at Fandango Groovers Movie Blog he has given the blogging community yet another great blogathon to get excited about with "Mixtape movies"

So many times an actor will find themselves being typecast as a particular role, be it the wisecracking hero, the ditzy heroine or comedy sidekick. However what has always held a fascination with myself is the idea of the surprise badass. A character type which frequently comes from nowhere, more often than not when we have classed an actor of playing one type of role, only for them to suddenly unleash a radically different and as is the case with several of my movie choices a much darker side. So lets explore this cinematic curiosity further by allowing me to present my Surprise Badass Mixtape

Shoot ‘Em Up (Paul Giamatti)
For the longest time Giamatti has been a favourite on the indie scene, making a name for himself as a supporting character and frequently in roles which saw him playing flustered supporting or social awkward characters. Always a dialogue driven actor, “Shoot ‘Em Up” take his strength with dialogue and essentially puts a large gun in his hand, as here he truly makes for a great villain as he snarls, wisecracks and even trick shots his way through the film, with a single minded determination to get his hands on the baby which Mr Smith (Clive Owen) has been tasked with protecting, in this life action version of Bugs Bunny Vs. Elmer Fudd.....only with a shitload of guns.
Largely ignored on its release it has only now started gaining the cult following it deserves as it frequently lives up to director Michael Davis’s claim that “This is John Woo’s wet dream”.

Cliffhanger (John Lithgow) 
When this film was released most of us were more familiar with Lithgow madcap antics on “3rd Rock From The Sun” as Dick Soleman the leader of a team of undercover aliens trying to study human behaviour with more than questionable results. Here he gives us what could only be described as the flipside of his on screen persona with his portrayal of Eric Qualen the leader of a group of thieves. So evil is his character that he doesn’t even think twice about killing off his girlfriend, so that he can maintain the upperhand while generally caring more about collecting his ill-gotten gains than any member of his team, who are frequently seen in his eyes as disposable, while also proving himself surprisingly handy in a fist fight with Stallone. 
It is such an amazing performance he gives here and one only made all the better from his audience likely being more familiar with his usual happy-go-lucky style than anything so dark. True unlike some of the characters on this list he might not kick a lot of ass, his pitch black evil streak is more than enough to earn him a place here.

Aliens (Jenette Goldstein) 

You need only look at Goldstein’s acting resume to realise the reason that James Cameron calls her “The Human Chameleon”, I mean do you remember her as Jenelle in “Terminator 2: Judgement Day”? What about the maid in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”? Hows about the Irish mother in “Titanic”? Chances are that if you’re like me you didn’t, which is what makes her such a surprising badass (only kind of in reverse) as rather than carve a career playing roles similar to her stand out performance here as Vasquez it remains her sole badass role.
Vasquez is memorable not only for being a badass, but for giving us a rival alpha female to Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, as she proves herself more than (aswell as frequently more) capable to holding her own with her male marine counterparts, as especially proven during the marine’s first contact with the titular aliens, as while those around her are losing their heads and turning themselves into easy alien pray, she simply weigh up the situation and screams “Let’s Rock”. So much of a badass is Vasquez she even ensures that she goes out with a warrior death with the help of a handy grenade.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day (Linda Hamilton)

If there was one badass on this list that I wouldn’t want to face it would have to be Sarah Connor, who here is a far cry from when we met her previously, having spent the years since her first confrontation with The Terminator having left her training for the prophesied Judgement Day.  However having been confined to a mental institution after her failed attempt to bomb a computer factory, she is has taken on an almost feral state when we meet her again. It’s a startling transformation and one which only becomes only clearer when you compare the Sarah Connor of the first film with the version we see here.
Hamilton’s commitment to accurately portraying the role only further helps here, as she went under an extensive training regime, which saw her losing 12 pounds via a non-fat diet, while also taking on judo and military training to help further hone the character to the pinnacle of badassery, as here is 100% pure alpha female!

Zombieland (Woody Harrelson)

When I think of Harrelson it is always his more comedic roles, which he has spent most of his career, usually playing in some variation of his breakthrough role as Woody on "Cheers"

True he might have given us a badass turn prior to this film as Mickey in “Natural Born Killers”, but it was mainly showcased at the end with everything else being generally mindless violence as part his and Mallory’s psychotic nature. Here however as Tallahassee he is purely about kicking zombie ass, with enough time having passed since “Natural Born Killers” to ensure him a place on this list, as it truly feels like a new side we are seeing to Harrelson, while his last stand from a carnival stand over further cementing his place here on the list.

And now for my wildcard entry on this mix I give you….

The Rock (Sean Connery)

Okay, Okay I know your all no doubt questioning how Sean Connery could be considered a surprising badass, after all here is a man who 95% consider to be the definitive James Bond, who all future Bonds are measured against.
So why did I choose to include him on the list? Well while Connery might have kicked a lot of ass as Bond, but it was always with a witty remark which defused the violence of what had just witness him do. Here as ex SAS member Mason, he essentially gives us an elderly Bond only with a more badass edge, as he proves that age has zero effect on his ass kicking abilities, judging by the impressive body count he racks up while still snarling out classic lines like

"Your "best"! Losers always whine about their best. Winners go home and fuck the prom queen.”

True Connery might be an established badass, but here he proved that he was still as capable even in the twilight years of his acting career.

So there you have it my personal favourite surprise badasses, but who else has pulled their own Surprise badass moment?
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