Thursday, September 20, 2012

On DVD/Blu-ray: DETACHMENT (2012), BAIT (2012) and SALVATION BOULEVARD (2011)

(US - 2012)

Full-time provocateur and part-time filmmaker Tony Kaye returns with his first released narrative feature since 1998's AMERICAN HISTORY X (his cop thriller BLACK WATER TRANSIT was shot in 2007 but remains shelved in the same production company bankruptcy case that's kept David O. Russell's NAILED unreleased since 2008).  Always more concerned with getting a gut reaction from viewers rather than being a disciplined director (and why does he have to glibly label this "A Tony Kaye Talkie"?), Kaye's DETACHMENT has a lot of ideas and characters to juggle, not always successfully bringing things together, but if a film's biggest crime is that it's too ambitious and tries to accomplish too much, then one can overlook the flaws and occasional pretentiousness and self-indulgence.  Heading a very impressive cast, Adrien Brody stars as a short-term sub in a declining NYC high school that's seen better days.  Haunted by a troubled past that involves his mother's suicide and some deep secrets of his Alzheimer's-stricken grandfather (Louis Zorich), Brody chooses to work as a sub as a means of avoiding extended contact with students and colleagues, providing him with the perfect opportunity to keep his distance and remain detached from everything around him.  Forces beyond his control end up tearing down those walls--an overweight girl (Betty Kaye, the director's daughter), who's bullied at school and at home, starts to feel misplaced affection for him; and he also ends up giving temporary shelter to an underaged prostitute (Sami Gayle) after he witnesses her being assaulted by a creep she just serviced on a bus.

DETACHMENT refers not just to Brody, but also to the teachers, the students, the parents, and the world in general.  Teachers sit in silent classrooms waiting for parents to show up on Parents Night.  No one comes.  Students write "You suck!" on tests, they openly threaten teachers with gang rape, and one even kills a cat in the gym.  Teachers internalize their frustrations or self-medicate.  Communication breaks down, tempers flare, friendships disintegrate, marriages fail.  The world is falling apart and the only feeling anyone can muster is complete and utter apathy.  Kaye and screenwriter Carl Lund clearly make the point that if we want change, it has to start on the ground level in the schools, and everyone has to be an active participant. Kaye too frequently resorts to being Tony Kaye, with zooms and handhelds, and changing film stock for no reason other than showing off, but there's some undeniably strong and powerful scenes throughout.  There's also some nice character turns by James Caan (who's very good here) as a cynical, pill-popping, seen-it-all teacher who can throw the insults right back at the students (handling detention, he tells a student "Wait here, when I get back we can discuss your bright future") and Marcia Gay Harden as the beleaguered principal.  Other familiar faces drift in and out of the story but aren't on screen enough to make a big impact:  Christina Hendricks as an idealistic teacher and potential Brody love interest; Tim Blake Nelson as a ticking timebomb about to go off on his students; Lucy Liu as the burned-out guidance counselor; Blythe Danner (who gets a really nice bit with Caan as they dance in an empty classroom, two longtime co-workers reminiscing about a time when people gave a shit), William Petersen, Bryan Cranston (given very little to do in two brief scenes as Harden's husband), Doug E. Doug, and Isiah "Sheeeeeeeeeeeit!" Whitlock, Jr as an unctuous district hatchet man who tells Harden she's on her way out (points deducted for not letting him do his signature schtick).  Shot in 2010, DETACHMENT only made it to ten screens at its widest US release, grossing just $71,000.  It's a bit of a rambling mess on occasion, but as one has come to expect from Kaye (whose 2006 documentary LAKE OF FIRE dealt with the abortion debate), it's raw and uncompromising, and when it works (which is most of the time), it works very well.  (R, 98 mins; also streaming on Netflix)

(Australia/Singapore - 2012)

If anyone was still talking about SNAKES ON A PLANE, this would-be high-concept thriller could've easily sported the title SHARKS IN A SUPERMARKET.  Anchor Bay acquired this shot-in-3D Australian shark flick and actually released it in a scant few theaters this past weekend (just a couple of days before its DVD/Blu-ray release) instead of where it really belonged:  on SyFy at 9:00 pm last Saturday night.  Taking itself far too seriously for a film with such vapid characters and terrible special effects, BAIT puts a bunch of unlikable assholes--including NIP/TUCK's Julian McMahon as a criminal who was in the middle of an armed robbery--in a supermarket as a tsunami hits and they find themselves trapped with a great white shark swimming through the submerged store aisles, periodically leaping out of the water to devour someone.  And of course, the hero (Xavier Samuel) is still traumatized by watching his best friend get eaten by a shark a year earlier.  This does lead to a rather amusing scene of Samuel doing the Roy Scheider "Everybody out of the water!" freakout from atop the freezers in the frozen section.  Director Kimble Rendall logged some time as second unit director on films like the MATRIX sequels and he directed the 2000 Australian slasher film CUT with Molly Ringwald and Kylie Minogue, but before any of that, he was a founding member and bassist for Australian cult rockers Hoodoo Gurus (Rendall also performs a gothy, Tiamat-tinged cover of "Mack the Knife" that's played over the closing credits).  BAIT inexplicably sports six (!) credited writers, including co-producer and HIGHLANDER director Russell Mulcahy.  Watchable but stupid (there's a cop and two other guys with guns--no one ever tries shooting the shark?) and kinda boring, BAIT is still better than the useless SHARK NIGHT, though if you're looking for recent shark thriller that's solidly-done and has Australian accents, you're better off checking out THE REEF. (R, 93 mins)

(US/Australia - 2011)

Shot in Ann Arbor, MI, the megachurch satire SALVATION BOULEVARD strands a cast of several Oscar winners and nominees in a meandering, pointless story that just registers zero across the board.  Even if it mustered the courage to be nothing more than smug and condescending, it would be something.  But instead, it's just...there, wasting the time of everyone from the cast down to the viewer.  You can tell there's a Coen Bros.-type story lurking somewhere in this mess, but it just never materializes.  When Rev. Dan Day (a woefully miscast Pierce Brosnan, in probably the worst performance of his career), the beloved leader of a community megachurch, accidentally shoots atheist Prof. Blaylock (Ed Harris) in the head, he tries to stage it as a suicide attempt before pinning it on hapless doofus Carl (Greg Kinnear), a former Deadhead who abandoned his debauched, sex/drugs/rock n' roll lifestyle to marry the devoutly Christian Gwen (Jennifer Connelly).  While Blaylock languishes in a coma, Carl gets abducted by a Mexican drug lord (Yul Vazquez) who's trying to strong-arm Rev. Day over a land deal.  Who gives a shit?   Brosnan and Kinnear fail to replicate the magic of THE MATADOR from several years ago (Brosnan should've gotten an Oscar nomination for that), but also lost in the wreckage are Marisa Tomei as a stoner campus security official, Ciarin Hinds as Carl's cranky father-in-law, Isabelle Fuhrmann as Carl's stepdaughter, and Jim Gaffigan as one of Rev. Day's flunkies.  There are nothing but solid pros in this cast and you know the material's sporting a toe tag if they can't do anything with it. There's no mystery at all why this was buried and released on DVD with no fanfare 14 months after a four-screen theatrical release, seemingly forgotten by its own distributor.  A total misfire. (R, 96 mins)

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