Tribeca 2011: “Detachment,” Reviewed

Tribeca 2011: “Detachment,” Reviewed (photo)

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Tony Kaye didn’t disappoint. In front of a packed house at the BMCC Performing Arts Center during the Tribeca Film Festival, the British director that once wanted his name replaced with “Humpty Dumpty” on “American History X” came out onstage with the greying beard of a hermit, the glasses of Sigmund Freud, a black guitar and a Whole Foods shopping bag to mumble an introduction of his film “Detachment” before breaking out into a full-blown song that ended with the audience chanting, “I don’t care.” (A sample lyric: “Brainwash my confidence away…begging for peace of mind may seem selfish and unfair…I don’t care.) Adrien Brody was there, too, saying some heartfelt words about how his father was a public school teacher, but all eyes were on Kaye, who implored the audience to look for the color red in the film by placing a piece of paper drenched in red ink in front of his face and demanding “Watch it. Watch it – the color red…look for it! Listen to it.”

I found myself unable to do that last part, but was also unable to look away from “Detachment,” which has its title derived from Albert Camus and introduces itself as “A Tony Kaye Talkie.” Soon, a chalkboard is filled with the credits of each of the actors, spliced between black-and-white clips of real-life teachers talking about their frustration until we see Brody’s substitute teacher Henry Barthes ruminating on the state of education and the psyche of educators. (Or perhaps it was Brody himself, since he sports a goatee he doesn’t in the classroom and said something very similar before the film about the complexities facing teachers today in his own introduction.)

Despite quick cuts and dutch angles to the contrary, the story is actually relatively simple: Barthes shows up to a high school for a month where the principal (Marcia Gay Harden) is clinging to power while she’s under siege from higher-ups interested in test scores, nearly all the teachers feel powerless and the kids are well beyond rescue, angry at a system they can only intuit has let them down and show it by wearing wildly inappropriate clothing and killing cats with hammers for sport during recess. An answering machine is shown frequently taking calls from pissed-off parents and resigning teachers and all the while, Barthes has concerns outside the classroom between caring for his father (Louis Zorich) and taking in a teen prostitute (Sami Gayle) he sees abused on a bus ride home.

Kaye’s worldview remains unpleasant and decidedly un-P.C., but all with the sole intention to provoke. African-Americans are portrayed as animals that need to be tamed, Christina Hendricks appears in the film mostly to be spat on (by a black student, of course, who is “going to get my n***ers to gang-rape you”) and serve as female company for Brody, and nearly every situation is taken to its extreme (and mostly predictable) end. However, Kaye’s lack of subtlety is made up for by his facility with images, which even as they include Nazi propaganda and gonorrhea-infected vaginas (in the film’s funniest scene, no less), somehow work in that indescribable harmony that’s the mark of a true artist.

There’s no doubt that’s what attracted such a strong cast to “Detachment,” which has far too many great actors than know what to do with, much like Lars von Trier’s “Dogville,” and it’s no surprise a survivor of that film, James Caan, comes away with the most winning turn here as a teacher whose wicked sense of humor gets him through the day. Likewise, Blythe Danner has enough clout to command the screen in her few scenes as a rebellious veteran. Less successful are the fully committed performances from Tim Blake Nelson and Lucy Liu, who both are marked for punishment early and receive it throughout as long-suffering educators in the midst of psychological breakdowns. Other members of the faculty include William Petersen and Doug E. Doug, who have about the same amount of dialogue, which is to say nearly zilch, while Bryan Cranston comes in as Harden’s husband to suck her toes and leave.

“Detachment” is very much hit-and-run that way, though it’s got a solid anchor in Brody, who can consider himself redeemed for that Stella Artois commercial if it meant taking on something dangerous like this. Due to Kaye’s unusual shooting methods – closeups where an actor’s face is dead center of the frame, shooting upward from the ground, etc. — Brody is occasionally left high and dry as an actor since when an unusual angle is employed, it becomes apparent that he’s acting, but with the film flipping back and forth between Barthes in the classroom and sitting by himself analyzing what he and other teachers go through, it suggests that the performance is necessary to communicate and deflect with students whose attention spans have been winnowed in this day and age.

In many ways, it’s that ADD generation that Kaye may connect with the most since it works far more at a subconscious level and practically, the director appears to be far less interested in answers than throwing grenades. Many of them are the same that have been brought out in previous battles — the downfall of public education is the fault of absent parents, teachers who can’t properly connect with their students, an emphasis on test scores and the dehumanization that takes place of both pupils and educators within the walls of the schools – only here, they have the ability to sear.

Hours after seeing “Detachment,” I’m not entirely sure if I learned anything from it or even if I felt its moments of self-indulgence (of which there are many, from scorched classrooms to Barthes’ constantly rhetorical questions such as “Haven’t you ever had enough?” to Kaye featuring his daughter Betty in the role of a suicidal artist who sees salvation in Barthes) outweighed what felt right about it as satire or hell-raising or somewhere in between. But what I do know is it shook up an all-too-polite debate on education, not to mention a film festival known for programming safe choices, and the result is something that, unlike the characters in “Detachment” who struggle with retaining their humanity, you cannot disconnect from.

“Detachment” currently does not have U.S. distribution, but will play the Tribeca Film Festival on April 27th, 29th and 30th.

Bob Odenkirk and David Cross in Mr. Show With Bob and David.

Best of Mr. Show

10 Mr. Show Sketches That Were Ahead of Their Time

David Cross returns as Todd Margaret January 7th at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: HBO/Brillstein-Grey

Proving the old adage that anything is possible if you wish hard enough, this month marked the return of comedy pioneers Bob Odenkirk and David Cross to the TV sketch arena with their new Netflix show W/ Bob and David. Featuring many of the writers and cast members (including Comedy Bang! Bang! host Scott Aukerman) who made the ’90s sketch program Mr. Show such an indelible cult classic, the long-awaited follow-up possesses the same sharp, satirical eye as its predecessor.

But in case you’re unfamiliar with Mr. Show and how culturally significant its comedy still is two decades later, here are the 10 most important sketches the series produced. And for more David Cross, be sure to catch the return of Todd Margaret on IFC beginning January 7th at 10P ET/PT.

10. GloboChem

For every faceless, multinational, multi-billion-dollar conglomerate, there are countless daily meetings just like this one: corporate pitchmen and bottomliners brainstorming ways to humanize their company’s image while tapping as many markets and demos as possible. And who better to accomplish this herculean task than a magical, pansexual, non-threatening spokesthing named Pit Pat?

9. The Mr. Show Water Cooler

Not too long ago, CNN was a trusted news source, Fox News languished in cable obscurity, and non-substantive political commentary based on monologue jokes and stand-up bits was relegated to variety shows like Politically Incorrect. But in the years since this sketch aired, comedy news outlets like The Daily Show, The Onion, and Last Week Tonight have become far more in-depth than our current cable news offerings and, according to multiple studies, they command a much more knowledgeable audience. Today, the “Mr. Show Water Cooler” sketch is more of an indictment of the “uninformed, unrehearsed political jam sessions” from the mainstream media than the satirical news shows that skewer them.

8. The Story of Everest

Lanky Jay Johnston undercuts his triumph of scaling Mount Everest by repeatedly falling against two racks of his mother’s thimbles in a mesmerizing display of physical comedy. And the fact there’s not much more to the scene makes it incredible. The overall simplicity of the premise, the realistic bewilderment and frustration of the parents, and how the basic tenets of comedy — timing, heightening, misdirection, etc. — are warped or outright abandoned makes this sketch a fascinating study of subtlety within slapstick.

7. Fairsley Foods

Without the financial resources, tax loopholes, and teams of lawyers that your average retail giant maintains, small family-run shops don’t stand a chance in most free market scenarios. So when a humble local supermarket chain is put in the sights of a mega-mart’s cutthroat smear campaign, there’s not much to do but close down locations and spend a fortune on child-sized tracking collars. The satire of mom & pop’s losing ground to mega-chains is just another example of Mr. Show eerily predicting the future.

6. The Prenatal Pageant

Years before Toddlers and Tiaras and Honey Boo-Boo popularized the alien world of child pageants and pushed the lowest-common denominator to record lows, a sketch like “Prenatal Pageant” seemed like a farfetched (albeit hilariously astute) portrayal of pageant families. But with 21st-century hindsight, Bob and David weren’t too far off from how those starry-eyed, reality show parents would treat a potential embryonic meal ticket.

5. Ronnie Dobbs

Once again, Mr. Show — the satirical prognosticator that it was — anticipated the precipitous decline of our celebrity tabloid culture. Ronnie Dobbs, the oft-arrested redneck who’s had brushes with the law in every state, achieves fame and fortune by simply being a petty criminal on a Cops-like reality show. And honestly, is that really different from today’s reality stars who get ample airtime and exorbitant per-episode paychecks?

4. Mr. Show Boys’ Club

In this biting take on the swinging-’60s sexism that predates Mad Men and is still present in many institutions, “Mr. Show Object” Jill Talley discovers that the Mr. Show Boys’ Club not only parades women around in skimpy outfits and deer antlers (a thinly veiled dig at the Playboy Club), but also offers meager concessions to its young female members. At a time when women are still fighting for equal pay and adequate health care, the sketch is sadly still very relevant.

3. The Teardrop Awards

As a stand-up, David Cross has railed against the cynical marketing in the wake of a tragedy. (Check out his thoughts on American flags post-9/11.) And playing a singer-songwriter who lost his five-year-old son a year prior, Cross explores similar exploitative territory with jubilant acceptance speeches after winning awards for his commemorative songs. A cathartic sketch for anyone who has felt gross after seeing suffering and misfortune capitalized on in the age of knee-jerk social media reactions.

2. The Last American Indian

The last living descendent of an ancient tribe is close to death as government agents watch over him and wait to take his land. All that’s left of his rich and storied culture is the foggy memories of a man in his twilight years — ones that could be confusing history with the film Billy Jack. It’s an incredibly dark and poignant reminder of the civilizations that have been lost and forgotten in the annals of war and subjugation.

1. Pre-Taped Call-In Show and The Audition

While these two sketches may not have the satirical edge of other Mr. Show scenes, they’re both master lessons on sketch writing that have inspired countless comedians. Both penned by Dino Stamatopoulos of Community and Moral Orel fame, “Pre-Taped Call-In Show” and “Audition” feature multiple layers of meta-comedy and gut-busting rage that stems from casually benign misunderstandings. To make a diehard fan out of a person unfamiliar with Mr. Show, simply show them these two sketches that continue to influence everything from Adult Swim to IFC’s own Comedy Bang! Bang!.

Want more comedy from the mind of David Cross? Check out the trailer for the return of Todd Margaret

Portlandia Season 5

Is It January Yet???

Portlandia Returns With Danzig, Louis C.K. and More on January 21

Portlandia returns January 21st, 2016 at 10P ET/PT.

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Circle the day on your calendar and mark your sundial, because Portlandia is returning to IFC for its sixth season on Thursday, January 21st at 10P ET/PT for ten all-new episodes.

Portlandia gif

In season six, Fred and Carrie embark on all new Portland-based adventures, including inadvertently creating a ramen noodle monster that wreaks havoc on the city.

Other things to look forward to this season: Doug and Claire break up, only to wind up frustrated by a way-younger party girl and an overly caring feminist, respectively. Dave and Kath decide to run a marathon that takes place the following day. Fred turns grey overnight and, in seeking answers from the universe, gets sucked into a black hole. Kyle MacLachlan, reprising his role as the Mayor, tries to lure a tech company to Portland and also puts the moves on Carrie with a canister of frozen sperm from his office refrigerator.

Guest stars coming to Portlandia this season include Jillian Bell (Workaholics), Louis C.K. (Louie), musician Wayne Coyne and The Flaming Lips, rocker Glenn Danzig, Gregory Gourdet (Top Chef), Mitchell Hurwitz (Arrested Development), Moshe Kasher (Another Period), Zoe Kravitz (Dope, Mad Max), John Levenstein (Kroll Show), NPR’s Kai Ryssdal, Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development), Robert Smigel (Saturday Night Live), and Bitsie Tulloch (rimm).

Returning guest stars include Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire), Natasha Lyonne (Orange Is the New Black), and Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley). Be sure to catch Seasons 1-5 of Portlandia on iTunes and Netflix and check back here for more announcements before the season six premiere on January 21st.


Todd Margaret Sneak Peek

Get a Sneak Peek of Todd Margaret Season 3 at New York Comic Con

Todd Margaret returns January 7th, 2016 at 10P on IFC.

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Before Todd Margaret returns to IFC for a third season on Thursday, January 7th, he is taking over New York Comic Con the same way he took over the London office of Thunder Muscle energy drink.

Get ready for the comeback to end all comebacks, because Todd Margaret (David Cross), is back, three years after he blew up the world and he has the panel at NY Comic Con to prove it. On Friday, October 9th at 5:30 PM, stop by Room 1A10 at the Javits Center in New York City for IFC Presents Todd Margaret: A Sneak Peek at the Return of a Cult Hit and watch the first two episodes of the brand new season.

As fans of the series know, total chaos ensued when bumbling American Todd Margaret was sent to London to promote Thunder Muscle. The result was the end of the world, but somehow Todd survived. He’s returning for a third season, but there’s a twist: he’s a very, very different Todd.

See how it all plays out at this sneak peek screening at New York Comic Con before the new season premieres on IFC in 2016. And check back for more updates on the return of Todd Margaret.

Jake Johnson

Jake Brings the Funny to CB!B!

Jake Johnson’s 10 Funniest Quotes

Catch Jake Johnson on Comedy Bang! Bang! tonight at 11P ET/PT on IFC.

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Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

There’s just something likable about Jake Johnson. Sure, he often plays surly drunks in everything from indie films like Drinking Buddies to Fox sitcoms like The New Girl, (heck, he’s even the inspiration for Drunk History) but off-screen he’s known as one of the nicest guys in Hollywood. In honor of Jake’s guest spot on this week’s Comedy Bang! Bang!, we thought it was high time to share some of his most quotable moments from film and TV. See if you can spot just how drunk he is below.

1. On his resemblance to a turtle…

Ora TV

Ora TV

2. In rain or shine, the sex mail man will always be there.

20th Century Fox Television

20th Century Fox Television

3. Beware Jurassic World’s most fearsome dinosaur!

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

4. Outer space horse = unicorn?

20th Century Fox Television

20th Century Fox Television

5. Wasn’t there a “Real Sex” episode about that?

20th Century Fox Television

20th Century Fox Television

6. Jake always has your back.

Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures

7. Age is just a number. A large, scary number.

20th Century Fox Television

20th Century Fox Television

8. Personal hygiene is important.

20th Century Fox Television

20th Century Fox Television

9. To be fair, John Lithgow’s minister character was pretty scary.

20th Century Fox Television

20th Century Fox Television

10. Always drink responsibly, lest you forget where you put your keys.

20th Century Fox Television

20th Century Fox Television

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