Exclusive video footage from the world premiere of SERAPH, a collaboration between the dance company PILOBOLUS and the MIT Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Lab, at the 2011 American Dance Festival. Pilobolus performs at the Durham Performing Arts Center through July 2.
Video footage from the world premiere of Rosie Herrera's DINING ALONE at the 2011 American Dance Festival. Herrera's company performs DINING ALONE and PITY PARTY through June 29 at Reynolds Theater.
New video preview of the dance company Evidence performing a section of Ronald K. Brown's new suite to Stevie Wonder, ON EARTH TOGETHER, at the 2011 American Dance Festival. The company appears with Dayton Contemporary Dance Company through June 25 at Durham Performing Arts Center.
Lately, Cameron Diaz is known more for the men she dates than the movies she makes. Over her 16-year film career, it’s hard to tell the difference between versatility and never quite finding a niche. She has starred in romances (My Best Friend’s Wedding; The Holiday), dramas (Gangs of New York; In Her Shoes), action films (Charlie’s Angels; Knight and Day), psychological thrillers (Vanilla Sky; The Box), animated movies (the Shrek series), and indie fare such as Being John Malkovich and A Life Less Ordinary.
Still, it is comedies like There’s Something About Mary and The Mask where Diaz made her name, so it would seem natural for the now 38-year-old actress to return to her familiar stomping grounds with Bad Teacher. The passing years have done little to dim Diaz’s outsized personality (a welcome trait for this genre) and it helps that she doesn’t look like she’s aged a day over the past decade.
However, it’s another black comedy, the similarly titled Bad Santa, with which Bad Teacher shares its comedic DNA. Unfortunately, that connection predominantly involves irreverent, irredeemable and unlikable protagonists we’re asked to cheer for against all sense of logic and decency. After getting dumped by her rich fiancée for being a gold digger, the suddenly cash-strapped Elizabeth Halsey (Diaz) reluctantly returns for her second year teaching at John Adams Middle School. Elizabeth is hostile to her students and coworkers. She spends her nights—and often workdays—getting drunk and high, and then sleeps off the hangover by babysitting her seventh graders with school-related films like Stand and Deliver, Lean On Me and Dangerous Minds.
Elizabeth also decides that her road to happiness includes breast enlargement surgery. Unable to afford a boob job on a teacher’s salary, she dons her daisy dukes to raise money for the school’s annual car wash fundraiser just so she can skim the profits. She solicits bribes from parents in exchange for giving their children good grades. She makes advances towards Scott (Justin Timberlake), a rich, feckless substitute teacher with a predilection for cardigans and dry humping. And, when she learns a bonus for the teacher whose class has the highest end-of-grade test results, she drugs a school administrator in order to steal the answer key and use it for test prep.
The most devious trick of Bad Teacher is slyly luring the audience into rooting for Elizabeth’s foul-mouthed misdeeds to win out over her nemesis, Amy (Lucy Punch), a holier-than-thou coworker whose main transgressions are taking pride in being a good teacher and ferreting out Elizabeth’s actual misconduct.
That unsavory sleight-of-hand, together with director Jake Kasdan’s send-up of classroom pieties, isn’t enough to compensate for the lazy scatology and off-color one-liners about blacks, Jews, gays and “Orientals” that are offensive principally because they lack any satirical context. Only Jason Segel gets good quips as Russell the sardonic gym teacher, whether he’s taking Elizabeth down a peg as he doggedly pursues her affections or arguing with a student that Michael Jordan was a better basketball player than LeBron James. Otherwise, the wayward jokes, like the film’s disjointed storyline and superficial characters, lack wit or rhythm.
In the end, the only “nice” thing Elizabeth does is salvaging the cred of the class nerd (Matthew J. Evans) by starting the false rumor that she caught him groping an eighth grader. No matter. The only apple this Bad Teacher deserves is one with a worm in it.
Exclusive video preview of the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company performing a section of Donald McKayle's RAINBOW 'ROUND MY SHOULDER at the 2011 American Dance Festival. The company appears with Evidence through June 25 at Durham Performing Arts Center.
Exclusive video footage of TAO DANCE THEATER at the 2011 American Dance Festival. The company performs June 20-22 at Reynolds Theater at Duke University.
Produced and narrated by Byron Woods.
Warner Brothers, which owns DC Comics, has a problem. They own 75 years' worth of DC Comics characters, but only Superman and Batman have proved capable of headlining multimillion-dollar franchises in the past decade, while arch-rival Marvel Comics has figured out how to monetize the lesser-known-likes of Iron Man and Thor. Their solution to this, along with the inevitable demise of the Harry Potter franchise, is Green Lantern, an action figure-friendly fusion of Spider-Man and Star Wars that isn't as dire as some early reviews have claimed, but suffers from a few too many cooks stirring the (pea-green) soup.
Admittedly, Green Lantern is a bit of a heady brew anyway. The premise seems simple enough if you're already inoculated to science fiction and superhero comics, but might be more than non-fan audiences can follow. Simple version is that hotshot test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is recruited to become part of a legion of interstellar cops from across the universe, who use green rings powered by lantern "batteries" that allow them to fly, shoot lasers and shape objects out of green energy. Then you throw in multiple alien Lanterns, a massive Oz the Great and Powerful look-alike called Parallax, Peter Sarsgaard as a nerdy Earth scientist who's infected by Parallax and various daddy issues, and it's easy to get lost.
The flick often feels like a series of obligatory set pieces: Here's Hal in bed with a one-night stand! Here he is flashing back to his dad's death! Here he is bonding with his adorable nephew! These scenes feel culled from various drafts of the script. Sarsgaard's character Hector Hammond is given some sort of long-time relationship to Hal that's never fleshed out, along with a crush on Blake Lively's Carol Ferris, who despite being a decade younger than either man, is supposed to have grown up with them. Both Hector and Mark Strong's Sinestro (awkwardly set up as antagonist for the sequel) come off as more sympathetic than Reynolds' Hal, an indecisive mope who crashes jet planes, puts people out of work and nearly gets Earth destroyed because he has issues with admitting fear. Poor baby.
There's fun to be had in Green Lantern: Director Martin Campbell has plenty of fun CGI to work with, and the characters have a self-aware attitude about being in a superhero situation (the scene where Hal attempts to appear to Carol in his GL uniform has an amusing payoff). But there's rarely a sense of excitement, discovery or menace in what happens to Hal, which is what you need in a superhero film, that gradual transition from the mundane to the fantastic. Green Lantern tries to start with the fantastic from the first frame, and often comes off as a theme part ride rather than a character piece.
It's not a turkey, but it's also not the Marvel-rivaling franchise for which Warner Bros. might have hoped. Might we suggest Booster Gold next time?
A busy year for Bill T. Jones? You decide.
His incandescent musical on the life of Nigerian Afropop composer Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, FELA!, closed this January after 13 months on Broadway and a no-brainer Tony Award for choreography. By then, the musical’s world tour had already opened at London’s National Theater, before dates in Fela’s native Nigeria this spring. The tour continues: FELA! opens tonight (June 15) in Amsterdam, before just-announced dates in Washington, DC in September.
Jones was named a Kennedy Center Honoree last December. And he’s been at the center of perhaps the biggest story in the New York dance world this year, overseeing the merger of his 29-year-old company with DANCE THEATER WORKSHOP, that longtime downtown cradle and crucible for contemporary dance. The name of the new organization: NEW YORK LIVE ARTS.
In recent weeks, his company has been reconstructing the three repertory works we’ll see during residencies up the road in Charlottesville and at Bard College in upstate New York.
And in between them was that little tete-a-tete between Jones and SITI director Anne Bogart at UNC on April 7, where they announced an upcoming collaboration on Stravinsky’s RITE OF SPRING, scheduled for Carolina Performing Arts’ 2012-2013 season.
More after the jump.
But Shearer takes on a more serious side when he explores the problems faced by New Orleans residents post-Hurricane Katrina in his new documentary The Big Uneasy, which opens exclusively at the Varsity Theater in Chapel Hill today. THE INDEPENDENT got Shearer on the phone in Los Angeles to discuss his new project, and his unique perspective on the entertainment industry.
INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: I’d like to start by asking about your history with New Orleans, and how you came to make this film.
Harry Shearer: Like a lot of folks, I was first drawn to the city to attend the Jazz Fest. And like a lot of people, I fell in love with the city, and flew back two more times that year, and found excuses to come back as often as possible, until my wife and I got a place here in the late 1990s.
I wasn’t here when the city flooded—I was off making a movie—but as soon as the movie wrapped, I was back here for the aftermath, which was just like what was depicted in (the HBO series) Treme, but worse. I got to read and see the media coverage day by day about the two investigations into what had happened.
Ultimately, I got to talk to the people behind the investigations on my radio show, along with a whistleblower from the Army Corps of Engineers and some other folks. I blogged on the subject on The Huffington Post and tried to bridge the gap between what we in the city knew and what the rest of the country was learning through their media.
It came to a head in October 2009, when President Obama came to New Orleans and held a town hall meeting and told a room full of people who were devoted to him and who had voted for him that the flooding was a natural disaster.
And I realized, “Well, radio and blogging are great, but something more needs to be done, because this is an indication that the reality about what happened here has not reached the vast majority of Americans, including the President of the United States.” And that’s when I decided to make the film.
What would you like to see happen as a result of your film?
Well, first of all, I’d like to see people understand what actually happened here. That’d be a big step one. Secondly, I’d like to raise people’s awareness about the Army Corps of Engineers, which not only does work here but all over the country. While it’s probably worse here in New Orleans, it’s the same technique all over the country, which is why a hundred cities have been told, “Oops, your levee protection isn’t as good as it should have been,” including Sacramento and Dallas. And ultimately that there would be some political desire to deal with water issues in a century that’s going to have a lot of them.
You’ve worked in a number of media, but never a nonfiction documentary. What were some of the challenges in this?
Well, filmmaking is filmmaking. So much of the process is the same no matter what you’re doing: You’re assembling a crew, and constructing plans B and C and D and L in case A falls through, and working with an editor and a composer and so forth. Though there’s no actors, obviously.
The biggest challenge was I wanted people talking directly to the camera, not an off-camera interviewer. For people who are not actors, that’s asking a lot. I’m talking to them, but they have to look at the camera, so that’s a sort of split process actors are used to, but non-actors are not. So I had to work carefully to create a relaxed atmosphere to let them tell their stories the way I wanted, but in a coherent and compelling way.
I don’t set myself up as any sort of expert with this film. I just put the camera in front of people who know what they’re talking about—who did the work, the investigations, the testing—and show what I learned. But there’s a reason why the film stands as a factual document. I’m just the person who rented the camera.
Do you see yourself doing more films like this in the future?
I hope not! (laughs) I like fooling around too much. But I could not not make this film. It was compelling, and I wanted to share this information, and I had the resources.
To go back to your previous question—another challenge was dealing with the national new media, who have gotten this so wrong, and that’s been profoundly frustrating and aggravating. This is the real story about what happened to New Orleans, and why it could happen to your city next, and we know they’d rather spend more time on a congressman’s penis than anything else, and I’m not even talking about the commercial media, I’m including places like NPR.
In many cases, to get this out there, I’ve gone to cities where the film is opening to get it some attention and overcome that handicap from the national media. That’s one thing I’d think of before I did a documentary film again. You’re not doing an independent documentary to get rich; you’re doing it because you have information you think people should know. Sorry I can’t make it to your area; my lack of clones prevents me from coming to Chapel Hill.
You’re at a point in your career where you’re working on a wide variety of projects, and have the resources, as you mentioned, to do a film like this. Did you ever anticipate that you’d be in this position, or that you’d have such a surge in your career once you reached your 40s and 50s?
Oh, that was part of the plan. It really was. I’ve been in show business since the age of 7, so I never liked the idea of having your major success in your twenties and then sitting around and going, “Where did they all go?” So I had to endure the fact that a lot of folks where temporarily speeding up and getting ahead of me, and have the patience to believe that my way of doing things was going to pay off for me.
You know, you take gambles in life. I could have been wrong, I could have not gotten a lucky break, or a couple of lucky breaks, and I wouldn’t be where I am. But if you don’t bet on yourself, forget about betting on anything else.
This business thrives on the outsize sense of self from those who are in it. The best way to indicate you believe in yourself is to not at like you’re desperate for every piece of work you could possibly do, regardless of whether it’s embarrassing or humiliating, but to try to do work that you think is up to your standards of what you think are good.
I admit I’ve been in some stuff that wasn’t that good, but fortunately, most of it was pretty obscure, and people didn’t even know it happened, which is a good way to be. (laughs)
I got out of show business when I went to college, and when I came back, my attitude was, “I’m going to be doing this for the rest of my life.” And when you think that, you want to have a strategy that makes it possible to be doing work that you enjoy, and that you can be proud of for the rest of your life, as much as possible.
There are certain people who earn creative freedom just by making scads of money for studios, and I was never going to do that. So I had to figure out other strategies for carving out that space for myself.
I’m not sure if it was my perfume or the play, but by the beginning of the third act, my entire section of the audience had not returned. At first, I was a bit alarmed that they would start the last act before approximately 30 people returned from the restrooms, but the unfortunate truth quickly dawned on me: They had walked. Now, I think there are very few reasons to walk out of a show before curtain bows, and Raleigh Little Theatre’s The Threepenny Opera truly didn’t warrant any of them. It’s one thing to bolt at intermission of a Broadway stinker that you’ve dropped a couple hundred bucks on, but it’s another when you’ve got a community theater company soldiering through an ambitious, difficult play that also asks for commitment from the audience.
Originally produced in the Weimar heyday of 1928 Berlin, Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s show swept Europe by storm, producing 46 stage versions the following year and by 1933, 130 productions worldwide. Although Threepenny is based on a much older 18th-century work by John Gay called The Beggar’s Opera, Brecht’s book and Weill’s music broke the saccharine tradition of lyrical, musicals and challenged the bourgeois aristocracy and politicians with a show of jolting, cacophonous, bawdy originality that, when produced successfully, left audiences stunned.
Unfortunately, RLT’s production does not reach this level of achievement, although it deserves high marks for great effort in interpretation and execution. But, it must be said that Threepenny is just one hard-ass play to direct and perform. Clearly, director Haskell Fitz-Simons was summoning the gods of The Roundabout Theatre’s recent productions of Threepenny and Cabaret and tried to portray a darkly deceitful Victorian Soho with Brechtian panache but it came off more like stand and scowl: “Grrrrr, I’m a bad guy, watch me snarl.” “Grrrrr, I’m a whore, hear me roar.”