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3 items from 2003

Dis plucks Braff for 'Chicken'

11 December 2003 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Scrubs star Zach Braff -- whose directorial debut, Garden State, recently got picked for the main competition at the upcoming Sundance Film Festival -- has inked to voice the title character in the Walt Disney Co.'s animated Chicken Little for director Mark Dindal (The Emperor's New Groove). Expected to join him as part of the voice talent are Joan Cusack, Steve Zahn, Amy Sedaris, Don Knotts, Katie Finneran and Garry Marshall, sources said. Braff's casting marks a change in gender of the title character as Chicken Little was originally envisioned to be a female character but now will be male. The story centers on Chicken Little's wildly active imagination and tendency to overreact. He causes an uproar in his town when he pronounces that "the sky is falling down," which winds up getting him shipped off to a special camp where he meets other animals with challenges of their own. Other roles are expected to see Cusack as the ugly duckling, Zahn as a big pig named Runt, Sedaris as Foxy Loxy, Finneran as Foxy's sidekick Goosey Lucy, Knotts as Turkey Mayor and Marshall as Father. Braff is repped by CAA and Industry Entertainment. »

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The School of Rock

23 October 2003 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »


Toronto International Film Festival

"The School of Rock" rocks. This audience-pleaser comes from writer Mike White and director Richard Linklater, names usually associated with independent filmmaking. For that matter, the moviemakers have fun with their own filmography as the movie does comic riffs on the world of slackers, disaffected outsiders and other anti-Establishment types. White and Linklater team up with actor-musician Jack Black to create a high-energy comedy that takes its hero seriously when he declares, "I serve society by rocking!" Paramount has a winner in this Scott Rudin production.

"The School of Rock" gets going slowly as the film's first 20 minutes let Black go over the top to establish his slacker credentials. A hapless and aging rocker with no record deal or even next month's rent to show for years devoted to rock 'n' roll, Black's Dewey Finn is in a bad way. On the same day, he gets fired from his own band and receives a none-too-subtle eviction notice from roommate Ned White), egged on by Ned's exasperated girlfriend, Patty (Sarah Silverman).

Desperate to earn some bread, Dewey pretends to be Ned, who works as a substitute schoolteacher. Dewey takes a job for several weeks at a snooty private elementary school run by anal principal Rosalie Mullins (Joan Cusack). Dewey is content to institute daylong recess until he hears his youngsters play in orchestra class. Impulsively, he decides to mold these musical prodigies into a rock band. He junks the curriculum in favor of rock history, rock music appreciation and a pledge of allegiance that gives him "creative control" of the band.

Watching Black's deadbeat rocker teach a class of uniformed, rigidly disciplined youngsters how to adopt nonconformist, antisocial attitudes proves a rich source of comedy. Watching Dewey teach the theory and practice of rock, we realize this guy really does have an instinct for teaching -- as long as the subject inspires his passion. Soon his kids start acting like kids, not miniature adults, and Dewey dons the mantle of adult responsibility for the first time.

The filmmakers threw out a wide casting net to snare talented young musicians and singers to play the preteens in Dewey's high-voltage rock band, kids who can musically "kick ass" and "melt some faces." The young performers all prove up to their acting chores as well. They create forceful personalities, ranging from Joey Gaydos Jr.'s Zack, who really loosens up to get into the physicality of being a lead guitar player, to Maryam Hassan's Tomika, whose rich voice helps her overcome shyness and insecurity, and Miranda Cosgrove's Summer, the band's manager, who switches from books on geometry to those dealing with the economics of music and the career of David Geffen.

The film hits another comic mother lode in the byplay between Black and Cusack when he persuades her to agree to a class "field trip" by playing her favorite rock music in a grunge tavern.

Where this is all headed is imminently predictable, but getting there is no less fun. The climatic debut of the school band, which the youngsters name the School of Rock, is the film's highlight. Black's own rock talents contribute to the socko finish.

Good rock music runs throughout the movie. Some songs were written by Black and White. (Hey, that's a catchy name for a songwriting duo.) The New York band Mooney Suzuki wrote the fictional band's signature song, "School of Rock".

Shot in New York and New Jersey, "The School of Rock" benefits from Rogier Stoffers' fluid cinematography, Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer's theatrical lighting design for the final number and Karen Patch's amusing costumes that transform school uniforms into outlaw garb.


Paramount Pictures

A Scott Rudin production


Director: Richard Linklater

Screenwriter: Mike White

Producer: Scott Rudin

Executive producers: Steve Nicolaides, Scott Aversano

Director of photography: Rogier Stoffers

Production designer: Jeremy Conway

Music: Craig Wedren

Costume designer: Karen Patch

Editor: Sandra Adair


Dewey Finn: Jack Black

Rosalie Mullins: Joan Cusack

Ned Schneebly: Mike White

Patty: Sarah Silverman

Zack: Joey Gaydos Jr.

Tomika: Maryam Hassan

Freddy: Kevin Clark

Katie: Rebecca Brown

Lawrence: Robert Tsai

Running time -- 108 minutes

MPAA rating: PG-13 »

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Cusack eyes prime locale in 'Stepford'

7 March 2003 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

John Cusack is in negotiations to star opposite Nicole Kidman in Paramount Pictures' The Stepford Wives for director Frank Oz and producer Scott Rudin. The project will begin shooting in June. Cusack's sister Joan also stars in the project, marking the seventh time that the siblings have worked together after most recently collaborating on High Fidelity and Grosse Point Blank. Stepford is a remake of the 1975 thriller about a woman (Kidman) who moves into a neighborhood where husbands have transformed their wives into robots designed to cater to them. Cusack will play Kidman's husband. Joan Cusack plays Bobbie Markowitz, a hostile, sarcastic, cranky woman who is out of shape and enjoys drinking but gets transformed into a robot. Paul Rudnick wrote Stepford, which is based on Ira Levin's novel of the same name. Donald De Line is also producing Stepford, with Keri Selig executive producing. John Cusack, repped by WMA, next stars in Columbia Pictures' thriller Identity for director James Mangold and 20th Century Fox/New Regency Pictures' The Runaway Jury. »

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