Like to Thank the Academy... for Nothing!
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2007 (2007) - Paramount
From Goodbye, Mr. Chips
to Dead Poets Society,
Oscar loves inspirational teacher sagas. So I'm sure casting
two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank as real-life inspirational
teacher Erin Gruwell in a movie written and directed by Oscar
nominee Richard LaGravenese smelled like surefire award bait to
the folks at Paramount. It didn't turn out that way, though.
Somewhere along the line, Paramount got cold feet and dumped the
movie in the dead zone of January, all but guaranteeing that
it'll be forgotten in no time.
Swank's Gruwell takes a job teaching freshman English in a
tough school in Long Beach when racial tension in the LA area is
at its peak. After a bumpy start, she eventually gets the kids
to open up to each other and her via trips to the Holocaust
Museum and a journal-writing project that gives the kids a
chance to be heard.
the best thing that can be said about Freedom
Writers is that it's a better movie than Dangerous
Minds, a similar hot-white-teacher-in-the-hood story. The
classroom sequences feel somewhat more authentic, although Swank
seems to only teach one class, a luxury I've never heard any real
teacher being able to enjoy. The kids are pretty good, mainly
unknowns with a few non-pro actors in the mix, and Swank is her
reliable self. The movie loses its way whenever it ventures outside
the school, especially in scenes with a wasted Patrick Dempsey as
The DVD isn't bad, looking and sounding solid and boasting a
handful of OK extras. LaGravenese and Swank chat on a feature-length
audio commentary which has a few tidbits of information but too
frequently lapses into silence. There's 11 minutes of drab deleted
scenes, a featurette called Making a
Dream focusing on the musical collaboration between
co-composer will.i.am and Common, a photo gallery and the trailer.
There are also two featurettes. The first, Freedom
Writers Family, focuses on the making of the movie and is
standard promo fare. The second, Freedom
Writers: The Story Behind the Story, sounds like it
should focus more on the real-life Erin Gruwell. But after a couple
token words from her, it goes back to the movie and covers pretty
much the same ground as the first one.
Freedom Writers isn't the
disaster its unceremonious release may have led you to expect. But
it's a far cry from being essential viewing.
Film Rating: C-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/A-/C-
2006 (2007) - Warner Independent Pictures
Oscar fever is a ripe subject for satire and Christopher Guest
would seem to be the ideal man for the job. After skewering film
school pretensions in The Big Picture,
my hopes were high for For Your
Consideration. And while it isn't the home run it
should have been, the movie does have enough surprises in store
to make it worth a watch.
The usual Guest Repertory Company is on hand here. Guest
himself plays the director of Home
for Purim, a mawkish low-budget independent film
starring a handful of has-been and never-were actors including
Catherine O'Hara, Harry Shearer, Parker Posey and Christopher
Moyniham. When an internet rumor sparks Oscar buzz, the little
movie gathers a momentum it's unable to control, spurred on by
Shearer's agent (Eugene Levy), the movie's publicist (John
Michael Higgins) and the head of the studio (Ricky Gervais).
Waiting for Guffman, For
Your Consideration takes its time building itself up and
seems to climax early with most of the biggest laughs coming midway
through. Higgins is a stand-out as part-Choctaw publicist Corey
Taft, as are Fred Willard and Jane Lynch, perfectly capturing the
unctuous behavior of entertainment newsmagazine hosts. But the movie
belongs to Catherine O'Hara, delivering a funny and touching
career-best performance as Marilyn Hack, the actress who stands to
benefit the most from an Oscar. She pulls off something amazing
here, finding the soul in what could be a shallow one-note
caricature of an over-the-hill actress. As hit or miss as the rest
of the movie is, O'Hara single-handedly makes it worth watching.
Warner's DVD is equally hit or miss, with a disappointing transfer
and an audible but otherwise unexceptional audio track. The extras
seem slim at first glance but they're all worth checking out.
There's a gallery of poster concepts for Home
for Purim, the trailer and a low-key but welcome
commentary from Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy. Best of all is
the extensive collection of deleted scenes, some of which made me
laugh as hard as anything in the film itself, particularly anything
to do with the hilarious John Michael Higgins ("If I made this
face to an Eskimo baby
For Your Consideration marks a
gear shift for Guest, away from the mockumentary style of A
Mighty Wind and Best in Show
and into something closer to traditional satire. Some may be
disappointed in the change but at its best, For
Your Consideration offers laughs that can hold their own
against anything in Guest's previous films.
Film Rating: B+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C/B-/B-
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