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3 items from 2006

Strangers With Candy

28 June 2006 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

When Amy Sedaris turned her face into a gargoyle as Jerri Blank for the Comedy Central series "Strangers With Candy", something bracingly absurd hit the small screen. The menopause-meets-puberty concept put a 47-year-old ex-con back in high school; the comic results often as smart as they were outrageous. Reuniting Sedaris with series co-creators and co-stars Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello, this film prequel to the sitcom -- the first big-screen production of David Letterman's Worldwide Pants -- offers more laughs than most comedies of recent vintage. But what was subversive on the tube feels muted at feature length.

At the helm, Dinello finds the right note of cheesy bathos for a takeoff on after-school specials that dares to ask, "Can we change?" But even given the essential goofiness of the premise -- and the 10-minute cut since "Strangers" premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival -- the story line is thin, the execution uneven and some of the gags repetitive. Fans of the 1999-2000 series will flock to this low-budget limited release, but many will be disappointed, as will the avid audience of "The Colbert Report", accustomed to that show's nightly dose of satirical brilliance.

In garish makeup and professional golfer's hairdo, Jerri returns home after 32 years of hard knocks, in and out of prison, to pick up where she left off -- as a student at Flatpoint High. But the halls of Flatpoint are at least as cruel as lockup. On the home front, Jerri's stepmother (Deborah Rush) and half-brother (Joseph Cross) greet her with instant enmity, while her father (Dan Hedaya) lies -- and, when propped up for company, sits -- in a coma.

As bad teledrama would have it, a challenge presents itself as an opportunity to solve just about everyone's problems: the fast-approaching science fair. In order to prove that there is some learning going on at Flatpoint, principal Blackman (series regular Gregory Hollimon), who is corrupt and inefficient, desperately needs the school to win the fair in order to save his funding, threatened by two unamused members of the school board (Allison Janney, Philip Seymour Hoffman). Jerri, naturally, sees a trophy as a surefire way to inspire her daddy back into consciousness. Spurned by the popular kids, she teams with smitten Indonesian science geek (Carlo Alban) and a studious redhead (Maria Thayer) who provokes some prison-perfected extracurricular notions on Jerri's part.

Bible-thumping science teacher Chuck Noblet (Colbert) is no help to Jerri on her quest; offering a kinder, gentler but no more effective touch is the art teacher of Noblet's in-denial affections (Dinello). Deadpan turns from Janney, Hoffman and Ian Holm heighten the absurdity by way of contrast with Sedaris' intentionally over-the-top Jerri, while Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker deliver a couple of delicious characterizations -- he as a science-fair impresario who drags around his very own Boswell, she as a grief counselor whose chief tools of the trade are a timer and a tip jar.

As a sendup of teen-centered melodrama, "Strangers With Candy" is often on target, with savvy production design, costumes and music enhancing the effect. But though this film simmers with pitch-perfect observations, particularly about self-absorbed adults, it struggles to sustain the hilarity.



ThinkFilm in association with Worldwide Pants presents

a Roberts/David production in association with Comedy Central Films


Director: Paul Dinello

Screenwriters: Stephen Colbert, Paul Dinello, Amy Sedaris

Producers: Mark Roberts, Lorena David, Valerie Schaer Nathanson

Executive producers: David Letterman, Rob Burnett, Fred Nigro

Director of photography: Oliver Bokelberg

Production designer: Teresa Mastropierro

Music: Marcelo Zarvos

Co-producer: Stephen Colbert

Costume designer: Victoria Farrell

Editor: Michael R. Miller


Jerri Blank: Amy Sedaris

Chuck Noblet: Stephen Colbert

Geoffrey Jellineck: Paul Dinello

Sara Blank: Deborah Rush

Megawatti Sacarnaputri: Carlo Alban

Tammi Littlenut: Maria Thayer

Principal Onyx Blackman: Gregory Hollimon

Guy Blank: Dan Hedaya

Derrick Blank: Joseph Cross

Roger Beekman: Matthew Broderick

Dr. Putney: Ian Holm

Peggy Callas: Sarah Jessica Parker

Alice: Allison Janney

Henry: Philip Seymour Hoffman

MPAA rating R

Running time -- 86 minutes »

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Starting five named to LAFF chairs

16 June 2006 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Christina Applegate, Harrison Ford, Allison Janney, Virginia Madsen and Aidan Quinn will serve as honorary festival chairs for the 2006 Los Angeles Film Festival. Film Independent executive director Dawn Hudson lauded the quintet as embodying "the spirit of what great artists do -- champion both what is daring and diverse within filmmaking." Janney will host the opening-night festivities June 22, while Ford will host the filmmaker reception June 26. Madsen and Quinn will announce narrative and documentary winners at the Spirit of Independence event June 28, and Applegate will host the closing-night festivities July 2. »

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Over the Hedge

8 May 2006 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

DreamWorks' animated film, "Over the Hedge", is a backyard ecological comedy outfitted with some fine, silly slapstick and clever animal characters. This one is aimed more at a younger audience than, say, "Shrek" but has plenty of entertainment value for older family members to ensure substantial boxoffice returns in both domestic and foreign markets.

One gets the sense though that the DreamWorks/PDI 3-D animation team isn't pushing the edges of their computers the way the Pixar gang does. DreamWorks is playing it safe here with a PC comedy that delivers an ecological message while pitching family values to the point that one wants to shout, "Enough already!" The CG animation is routine, but the writers (working from the popular comic strip) and character animators under the supervision of directors Tim Johnson and Karey Kirkpatrick do a crackerjack job of filling the screen with lively, ingratiating creatures. The humans are crudely drawn, but the two prominently featured have distinctly evil personalities that make up for their rudimentary design.

Because the family in question here consists of porcupines, possums, a squirrel, skunk and chipmunk, all led by a tortoise, DreamWorks has amusingly messed up the animal kingdom on a par with Walt Disney's old Mickey Mouse shorts. Our family awakens from a winter hibernation to discover their forest is gone. In its place is a housing development that has destroyed their food source. A huge hedge separates them from the enemy.

While pondering their dilemma, a "savior" emerges in the form of RJ (voiced by Bruce Willis), a rascally raccoon. He labors under an urgent deadline, imposed by a large and angry grizzly (Nick Nolte), to restock the food larder the bear caught RJ stealing. The raccoon offers the family an apparent solution: Humans throw all sorts of food away in shiny outdoor metal cans. By combining the family's foraging skills with RJ's strategic talents, they can fill next winter's larder in no time.

The family's leader, a turtle named Verne (Garry Shandling), is dubious. He is as wary of humans as he is of the junk they eat. But tree bark can't compete with donuts and pizzas. So the family makes it over the hedge -- well, actually they tunnel through it -- where they pilfer food at will, led by Hammy, a squirrel (Steve Carell) who is overcaffeinated even before eating junk food. So much so that a shrill homeowners association lady (Allison Janney) calls pest control in the hulking form of Dwayne the Verminator (Thomas Haden Church).

This story sets in motion more than enough comic action sequences to fill the movie's 84 minutes. The final caper mimics and rivals the "Mission: Impossible" films' derring-do to hilarious results.

Character animators beautifully marry their creatures to the voice actors' individual eccentricities. Especially noteworthy are Wanda Sykes' slinky skunk, Carell's hyperactive Hammy, Omid Djalili's Persian housecat, Shandling's thoughtful tortoise and Willis' conniving raccoon with a touch of wistful loneliness coming through his bandit exterior.

Production designer Kathy Altieri's witty suburban landscape and Rupert Gregson-Williams' bouncy music keep things light and playful.


Paramount Pictures

DreamWorks Animation


Directors: Tim Johnson, Karey Kirkpatrick

Screenwriters: Len Blum, Lorne Cameron, David Hoselton, Karey Kirkpatrick

Based on the comic strip by: Michael Fry, T Lewis

Producers: Bonnie Arnold

Executive producer: Bill Damaschke

Production designer: Kathy Altieri

Music: Rupert Gregson-Williams

Songs: Ben Folds

Visual effects supervisor: Craig Ring

Editor: John K. Carr


RJ: Bruce Willis

Verne: Garry Shandling

Hammy: Steve Carell

Stella: Wanda Sykes

Ozzie: William Shatner

Vincent: Nick Nolte

Dwayne: Thomas Haden Church

Gladys: Allison Janney

Lou: Eugene Levy

Penny: Catherine O'Hara

Tiger: Omid Djalili

MPAA rating PG

Running time -- 84 minutes »

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