Detachment

Adrien Brody gets detached in Tony Kaye's new talkie.

In 1998, director Tony Kaye made one of the most auspicious debuts in film history with American History X, yet it was a film he disowned.  He railed against the system that didn’t allow him final cut, and he perpetuated a myth that the film’s star, Edward Norton (who gave a galvanizing performance as a Neo-Nazi that catapulted his name onto the A-list) meddled with the film at the behest of the studio to make it his own and not Kaye’s.  The end result was a film that became a cultural touch point for my generation.  It was probably the most talked about film in my dorm room freshman year of college.  It was a film so raw and violent in its emotional outbursts that it ranked as one of those films “I only care to see once” yet I will never ever forget the “upper jaw to the curb” or the “dinner table Neo-Nazi tirade” scenes so long as I still have a coherent memory.

In Europe, Kaye’s enfant terrible persona would’ve been celebrated, but in Hollywood, he was subjected to a modern-day blacklisting.  Since that time, he’s made a few documentaries (including an apparently incendiary one about abortion that even I am too scared to watch entitled Lake of Fire) and has one completed film mired in legalistic backlog (how ironic) interestingly titled Black Water Transit.  And yet…in 2012…somehow…against all odds, quietly emerges his newest film, Detachment.

In its tale of inner-city teachers struggling to survive and connect with out-of-control students neglected by vapid parents, Kaye’s film (scripted by Carl Lund) is full of grotesque stereotypes, overt symbolism and some of the most annoying hand-held shaky-cam aesthetics I have ever endured.  Yet for all of its Crash-like didacticism and reductionism, when Kaye (who also served as the director of photography) allows his camera to stay static and his actors to fill the scene with their soliloquies, the result is positively electrifying and poetic. Continue reading

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Splice of American Gothic

Looking at the poster above, you would think the new sci-fi horror flick Splice was some kind of cloning-era mish-mash of Alien and Species.  Based up the trailers, you would think that too.  On the surface all would point to this.  Well, golly, who knew you would be so wrong?

The film opens with a terminally hip power couple turned scientists-du-jour (Oscar winner Adrien Brody and indie film darling Sarah Polley) working for a pharmaceutical company (headed by a cold and demanding French woman played by Simona Maicanescu) splicing away to create a new species that can be used for the harvesting of therapeutic and disease curing genes.  Upon threat of being shut down and not allowed to continue their experiments, Polley’s character has the awful idea to splice in some human DNA on the sly — just to see if they could’ve done it, you know, that old song and dance.  The result — you guessed it — is a fast growing super-freaky French mutant (Delphine Chaneac) with wings and a long-tailed stinger who likes to play Scrabble.

But lurking underneath the guise of this well-worn Frankenstein-style think piece is a depraved little piece of American Gothic hullabaloo complete with hysterical women and family secrets.  Continue reading