By Roger Friedman, ,
Published May 18, 2015
Heath Ledger’s untimely tragic death at 28 on Tuesday may have been accidental, but there was a path to it.
Ledger has many friends, I am told, who will turn up in the next few days with tales to make our collective hair stand on end.
As a reporter, I hesitate to start getting into this less than a day after his passing. But from what I was told Tuesday night by someone who really knew Ledger and ex-girlfriend Michelle Williams, the young actor’s problems were severe.
"When they do the autopsy it will all come out, I’m sure," says one producer who knew the couple well. "They’ll find everything."
Ledger, he says, was morose over losing his life with Williams and their baby daughter in Brooklyn. He may not have committed suicide, but he carried on, my source says, with little regard for his health or well-being.
It’s hard for the average movie fan, including yours truly, to totally grasp why a guy like Heath Ledger — drop-dead handsome, popular, incredibly talented — could be depressed about anything.
My source reminds me: "You’re being paid $10 million and wondering if you’re worth it. Then your girlfriend kicks you out, you’re separated from your child and you’re thinking: 'I’m a big movie star but not popular at home.' That’s when the trouble starts."
Ledger’s death is heartbreaking to those who knew and loved him, for his child and his parents as well as friends. I won’t belabor the point. But when all the facts are in, Ledger’s accidental death will certainly seem like one that could have been prevented.
Remember Morgan Spurlock? He sent McDonald’s into a tailspin a couple of years ago with his "Super Size Me" documentary. The sight of him vomiting in his car after eating a Happy Meal left a lasting impression.
Now Spurlock is back with a controversial new documentary that was screened to cheers on Monday night at Sundance. "Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?" takes Spurlock on a mission to do what the U.S. government has not been able to so far: Find the infamous, evil terrorist.
Spurlock traveled to Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Israel, Egypt and Morocco, interviewing dozens of people from school children to bin Laden family friends. The work was extensive, much deeper and more textured than anything I’ve seen on network news shows.
Indeed, Spurlock travels to bin Laden’s former farm, now a group of abandoned huts in Pakistan. He even goes into one of those caves we keep hearing about, a likely spot where the maniacal architect of Sept. 11 could be hiding. He’s shot at, bullied and reprimanded. Spurlock even had his cameras shut down. But still he persisted.
The result of "Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?" is extraordinary. Along the way, his meetings with regular people — man-in-the-street-type stuff — in those aforementioned countries are superb.
The most memorable may be with two Saudi high school kids who can only be interviewed with supervisors in the room. They look like hostage victims as they respond to Spurlock’s questions about their freedom and culture; a lot is said in their eyes. Quickly, though, the interview is shut down when the questions get even slightly political.
Saudia Arabia is not the only Middle East country where Spurlock has trouble. In the Hasidic neighborhood of Tel Aviv, he’s taunted and shoved. An old man pushes him away. They are not welcome. Spurlock was actually more welcome on the Gaza Strip, where people were interested in speaking to him. More or less divided treatment greets him in other countries.
At the Q&A session on Monday night, I asked Spurlock if his Saudi guide — who was in the audience on his first trip to the U.S. — had been scared when they were filming. The man in question took the mike and answered: "to death." You get the picture.
"Where in the World?" is not just a history or political lesson. It’s full of Spurlock’s humor and is leavened by a little bit of personal story. His wife became pregnant two months into the project, and she forbade trips to Iran or Iraq. Just as he did in "Super Size Me," Spurlock uses that intimacy to make us care about his admirable adventure.
Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck are back at Sundance two years after their "Half Nelson" became an indie hit and earned Ryan Gosling an Oscar nomination.
Their new film, "Sugar," debuted in the last day and a half at Sundance; it’s energized the audiences and buyers. "Sugar" is a beautiful baseball movie, unexpected and extraordinarily artful. The pair of directors have scored a home run, to use the metaphor.
"Sugar" has no stars, though, and is mostly in Spanish. That could make it tough. But the universally appealing story of 20-year-old Dominican Republic pitcher phenom Miguel "Sugar" Santos is unassailable.
The actor Algenis Perez Soto is so good that he jumps right off the screen. Boden and Fleck have filmed him and all the actors in a documentary style that makes all the people feel real — they’re not, and this is fiction. It’s easy to forget that.
Sugar is such a good pitcher he’s recruited to the Kansas City Royals farm team and asked to try out at spring training. This is the dream of his family, of course, who are waiting for him to become a superstar. Sugar even brags to his girlfriend that his arm is "worth a million dollars."
I don’t want to give too much away so early, but it’s enough to say that even Sugar’s tremendous athletic ability may not be enough to sustain his dreams.
Pretty quickly we learn how Major League Baseball cultivates kids from the DR only to drop them before star status occurs. It’s to the writer-directors’ credit that this information is imparted through Sugar’s story and not told to us. They’ve done a tremendous job.
Whoever buys "Sugar" will have an award film on their hands next fall.