A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 562 – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – September 13th, 2011

My high school has a ditch day tradition. I suspect it’s not alone in this, but I’m not sure just how widespread the phenomenon is. The deal is that the senior class secretly decides on a day and then ditches school all together. In the past there have been classes that organized group activities and classes that just let everyone do whatever. Mine was going to be a do whatever class. The unwritten rule at the school was that the more classes you cut the worse the punishment was, but to spare kids who missed a day without calling in instant suspension for missing so many periods of class, the maximum number of cuts assigned for missing a full day was two, which earned you a detention spent doing some form of community service on school grounds. Then the administration announced, my senior year, that on ditch day they would be counting every class missed by a senior as a cut. Most of the class ended up not going. But it was a beautiful day, I had no cuts racked up prior to that, and only three of my classes were actually scheduled to meet that day and two of the teachers had let it be known that they wouldn’t be reporting cuts. So I ditched, along with two of my friends. We went and got pizza and brought it back for our friends who couldn’t.

My point here is that this movie feels like how I expected ditch day to feel. And while I didn’t sing and dance in any parades or steal a fancy car from a friend’s father or pretend to be the sausage king of the midwest, I did have a fun day with friends and since I got no punishment for it whatsoever, I think I can safely say that I got away with it. Still, I was no Ferris Bueller in high school. And I wasn’t a Sloane or even a Cameron. I wasn’t a Jeanie either. But the thing about John Hughes’ early high school-based movies is that despite the wild nature of some of the events, the characters feel authentic. Did you know a guy like Ferris? Or a girl? Someone effortlessly cool who was somehow friendly with everyone? Who did outrageous things and got away with them? I did.

Granted, Ferris Bueller should irritate the crap out of me. What a twerp! Lying to his parents, concocting an elaborate rig to make it look like he’s home sleeping, hacking into his school records to change his number of absences, not to mention the whole thing with Cameron’s father’s car. And okay, the thing with Cameron’s father’s car pisses me off. But the real trick here is that Ferris is just that charming. He can do these things and let’s face it, this movie is well loved by many. It’s a classic. We’re not all watching it to shake our fists at Ferris and sympathize with his principal, Mr. Rooney. We watch because we want to see Ferris and Sloane and Cameron and their day of ditching school to have fun in Chicago. That’s the point.

It feels silly to recap the action of this movie. Unlike, say, The Breakfast Club, this movie pretty much is what it says: It’s about Ferris Bueller’s day off. But it’s the details that are important here. Ferris doesn’t just ditch school. He feigns being sick and does it well enough to convince his parents to call in for him. He uses a high tech synth system to create the sound of coughing and sneezing and snoring. And then he takes off, having convinced his best friend, Cameron, to come pick him up. Cameron has a car, you see, and Ferris does not. It’s the tragedy of his life. And you know, to a guy like Ferris, who is capable of convincing anyone of anything and tricking people into doing things for him? Not getting a car when he wanted one would certainly seem like a tragedy, I’m sure. My heart bleeds for him. But it’s necessary for the plot. They concoct a phony death in the family to get Ferris’ girlfriend out of school, then Ferris wheedles his way into Cameron’s father’s prized car, which said father spends oodles of time on and knows every inch of and certainly knows the exact mileage to the quarter mile. They take the car into the city and proceed to have an exciting day out.

Now, before I get to the actual events of the day, let’s talk about the car. Because the car is key to Cameron’s character arc, but it’s also the thing that bothers me most. Most everything else Ferris does he either does along with his friends, or he does it alone and if he gets in trouble well, he’s the one taking the fall. The car, on the other hand, isn’t his and it isn’t his friend’s. He’s setting Cameron up to get in trouble for him. He claims they’ll take the added mileage off by driving it backwards. And maybe if Ferris was going to be trying to explain to his own father how an off-limits car got more mileage, he could get away with it. He is Ferris, after all. But Cameron isn’t Ferris. He’s Cameron. He’s not charismatic and charming. He’s the straight man. And while the wreckage of the car at the end is Cameron’s doing, and he says he’ll take the blame because he’s sick of being ignored by his parents and he’s glad it happened, think for a moment what would have happened if the car hadn’t gotten wrecked. The only thing that makes it not ruin things for me is that Cameron and his father do need to deal with things. Cameron does need to confront his father. And by the time it happens, he’s already had a bit of an epiphany.

It’s not really a deep movie, by any stretch of the imagination. There are little moments of depth, mostly toward the end, where the movie lets its characters think about the future and how they relate to each other and how they relate to their families. But only Cameron really gets much of a breakthrough – that being said, I love Cameron’s journey through the movie. He has my very favorite moment in the whole thing when the three of them are in an art museum and he’s staring at a Seurat painting and the camera alternates between increasingly close shots of his face and of a child in the painting. The whole museum segment is a fantastic bit of quiet in the middle of an otherwise raucous day. Alas, Sloane gets very little in the way of background or depth and Ferris isn’t about to have any grand realizations. If he did he wouldn’t be Ferris. His sister does get a bit of depth, mostly along the line of figuring out that she’s got to stop focusing on Ferris and do her own thing. But that’s it right there: What everyone learns is that Ferris is awesome. But that’s sort of the whole point of the movie, regardless.

September 13, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Movie 555 – Pink Floyd: The Wall

Pink Floyd’s The Wall – September 6th, 2011

I think I’ve mentioned my parents’ collection of vinyl albums before. Probably in my Woodstock review and likely in my reviews of various Beatles-based movies and I’m sure I mentioned it when we watched the Pulse concert on DVD. But I think it bears mentioning again, because my love of Pink Floyd comes from that collection. My mother, as it so happens, still loves Pink Floyd. I bought her a copy of the Pulse concert album when it came out on audio cassette so she could listen to it in her car and sing along. My brother tried to “lose” it once, but he didn’t succeed. My parents owned every album except, oddly enough, The Wall. That I had to bum off a friend from school, then buy my own copy of. I recently learned that my mother has never seen this movie. It seems like a strange absence, doesn’t it?

When Andy and I met we found we had many things in common when it came to media interests. We both loved MST3K. We both loved Doctor Who. We had similar taste in books. We had similar taste in movies. In television. And we had similar taste in music, largely centered around The Beatles and Pink Floyd. I hadn’t seen this movie when I met him, but it was on my list of things to see. And my first impression of it was that it was just as strange and dark as I’d been led to expect. And really, despite it being decades old and used as a visual backdrop for many a teenager’s angst-ridden years, I think it still holds up. Mostly because I think while it’s about angst in general, it’s also specific in the right ways and general in the right ways as to connect with many people outside of a specific time period while maintaining a story that doesn’t feel muddied.

Now, on one hand I’m tempted to roll my eyes. I mean, the story is, on the surface, about a white British guy, referred to as Pink, who lost his father in World War II. He becomes a rock musician, and then either goes insane and imagines himself as a fascist dictator or actually does become one and apparently blames it on a number of external reasons: His mother was overprotective. His father died in the war. His wife was predatory. Fame is hard! On the other hand, the movie takes a lot of what’s on the album and presents visuals that are far more conflicted. His mother is never really all that overbearing. His wife apparently truly cares for him and only turns on him when he’s already pretty much completely shut her out. His father died, yes, and that sucks. Everything else seems to be exaggerated in his own mind. His actions are out of proportion to the events around him. The turmoil in his head has roots outside of Pink himself, but where it could come off as an elaborate blame game it instead shows a tragedy of one person failing to cope.

There’s very little spoken material in the movie. It’s almost entirely the album, but with a few additional songs and bits of music. The spoken lines are mostly in the background. They’re things said while the music plays and they’re important for the setting, but more than that they’re a clue to the audience that what we’re hearing isn’t what’s actually going on. We’re hearing Pink’s internal thoughts. Which is really very revealing if you’re going to go trying to analyze the movie for its psychological meanings. I’m not well enough versed in psychology to go making judgements and slapping labels on anything here beyond being able to see that there are two very distinct worlds at play on the screen. One is the real world and one is the fantasy playing out in Pink’s head. The line blurs quite a bit when it comes to the fascist dictator parts, but anything animated is obviously not actually going on.

The ending does imply rather heavily that the entire fascism bit was all in Pink’s head. There’s certainly a good bit of animation in it, with hammers marching in lock step. But there’s also a lot of live action. It’s not entirely clear. I choose to believe that it’s a fantasy. I’m sure if I spent more time on it I could draw some interesting conclusions about Pink’s father’s death and his later Nazi-esque fantasies. I’m sure other people already have. The fact remains that plenty of other people lost their fathers in the war and plenty of people continue to lose parents in wars. It’s terrible and traumatic, but it doesn’t seem to produce vast numbers of ex-rock star fascist leaders. As far as I’m concerned, this isn’t so much about a general trend as it is about a single person’s reactions. And in that, the movie certainly adds to the music.

I am a little (okay, more than a little) uncomfortable with the knowledge that the filmmakers hired real skinheads for the fascist concert scenes, ostensibly for “realism”. It’s good to know that they got uncomfortable too, when a couple of the audience cast came in with the hammer symbol shaved into their hair. The danger here is that in presenting these scenes with catchy music, the line between encouraged and discouraged is very much blurred. While I can look at the movie and see that it’s very much against the nastiness that plays out near the end, other people might not see it that way. It’s a risky step. But I’m sure someone out there would say that’s what makes it good art. Fine.

What I think makes it good art is the combination of music, live action and animation. Granted, nothing in this movie is subtle and the animation is the least subtle part of it, but the combination all works. And it’s good animation. It’s just that it’s a bit of an anvil, metaphorically speaking. Fortunately, it’s not the entire movie. If it was it would be too much. But combined with Pink Floyd’s music and the acting from the main cast, it’s given just enough of a role. I do think Bob Geldof was a good choice for Pink and I was amused to realize that we’ve seen Eleanor David, who plays his wife, in something else (Comfort and Joy). Geldof has the most to shoulder, being the center of the entire piece, but the rest of the cast fits nicely. And overall the movie simply works for me. It’s a sad story, but it’s meant to be sad. And while I will continue to listen to the album, and I’m sure radio stations will continue to play Another Brick in the Wall out of context (which I feel is sort of like only playing a small piece of Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick), the movie is excellently done as a complete package in a way that just one part of it could never be.

September 6, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 551 – James Bond: A View to a Kill

placeholderJames Bond: A View to a Kill – September 2nd, 2011

After we watched the two newest James Bond movies we decided we might as well get a couple of others. One Connery for the early stuff, one Moore for the later stuff, and that would do us just fine. Andy picked out what to buy, since I had no real preferences whatsoever. He bought this and Goldfinger. Now, I’ll get to Goldfinger eventually when we watch it, but we decided to do this first. And looking at the cast? I can totally see why Andy picked it. This is a cast that immediately sent me into paroxysms of joy. Who gives a crap about the plot? This movie has the stunning combination of Christopher Walken, Grace Jones and Patrick Macnee. It’s like it was tailor made to put a smile on my face.

Granted, the plot is ridiculous and there’s a lot of shooting and exploding and whatnot. And Walken and Jones are the villains and Macnee is doomed (what with being an associate of Bond, whom I still say is a Typhoid Mary), but it doesn’t matter. Not to me anyhow. It filled me with glee to see these people on the screen together. I don’t give a damn if they got along or not (apparently Moore and Jones barely spoke off screen). I just can’t help but be happy that they were there. And I genuinely can’t decide whether I’m disappointed or not that Walken was given the part of the villain because they couldn’t get David Bowie. Because I love Walken, but I love Bowie too. Like I said: Tailor made for my interests.

But enough about my obsession over the cast. For now. Let’s talk plot. It’s overblown and ridiculous, as one might expect. I wasn’t really surprised by that much. I mean, it’s James Bond, and I started out watching the newest one, in which a secret cartel is planning on hijacking an entire country’s water supply and then causing a drought. Overblown and ridiculous is not a problem here. And I’ve seen plenty of parodies and rip-offs. Movies that rely on the tropes and traditions the Bond series has put in place. I expect there to be super villains. I expect there to be big grand plans to ruin economies and steal trillions and poison cities and hold things for ransoms. The plot of this one involves villain Max Zorin planning on destroying Silicon Valley to get a monopoly on the manufacture of microchips. It is so beautifully 80s, I can barely stand it.

Zorin himself is a wonderfully over the top villain and I hope Christopher Walken had fun playing him. He’s a product of a former Nazi scientist’s medical experiments in the Soviet Union, a genius and a psychopath who was trained by the KGB. And now he has a palatial estate and races doped up horses and entertains wealthy guests and flies private jets and so on and so forth. That’s just the sort of guy he is. He’s a villain. There’s no mistaking it. And he has a sidekick, the sinister and oft-hooded May Day, played by Grace Jones. And okay, I’m going to digress again into cast talk, but I do so love seeing Walken and Jones as villains together. It’s a marvelous thing.

So, Bond looks into a dodgy horse race, gets himself invited to Zorin’s estate for a horse auction, snoops around, gets his pal Tibbett to snoop around, gets Tibbett killed, finds how Zorin is getting his less-than-perfect horse to win races, and then he goes to California. I do mourn the loss of Tibbett, who was played by Patrick Macnee. He’s actually Sir Godfrey Tibbett, and I sort of envision him as John Steed’s slightly less badass cousin. He poses as Bond’s driver and valet while they’re at Zorin’s and does a bunch of investigating for him (being less visible because he’s posing as a servant, not a gajillionaire) and he does quite well, really. He doesn’t get killed because he’s bumbling or anything. We’re not talking Upper Class Twit territory here. We’re talking about a guy who helped Bond out and when Bond said “Take the car into town” he did so, with May Day hiding in the back seat. Alas, poor Tibbett.

As super spy action movies go, overall this one is pretty standard, I suppose. Apparently Moore was of the opinion that there was too much shooting and exploding and whatnot, and I can see his point if he was more on the side of the spy stuff than the action stuff. At the same time, having seen some far more explosive action movies in my time, I can’t say I would have noted it otherwise. Maybe it’s an earlier Bond thing? I don’t know. I’m not really looking to go out and buy the entire Bond collection to find out and let’s face it: Quantum of Solace definitely did the explosion thing to a greater degree. Really, what I thought when I watched this movie was that it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. It was a very period sort of action flick, but it didn’t stand out to me for anything other than the cast.

What did occur to me later on was the notion that Bond seems to be an interesting sort of display of the concerns of the time period. Bond’s been around for a good long while now, going through several decades. And by its nature as a spy franchise, depending on pitting its hero against international criminals whose actions would involve MI5, it will involve geopolitical issues. It’s not really all that surprising, therefore, if a plot here or there actually manages to reflect a true concern. They can’t all be gold-obsessed psychos bent on destroying Fort Knox. So even though this felt like an utterly ridiculous movie in many places, and the sheer volume of puns didn’t help there (though I admit they amuse me) it also feels like a reflection of its time. Which was the 80s. That plus the cast (and the theme song – I love Duran Duran) let me enjoy this movie, probably far more than most Bond aficionados do.

September 2, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 549 – Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko – August 31st, 2011

Gee whiz am I glad that I didn’t see this movie when it came out. Not because it’s a bad movie. On the contrary. But at the time it came out I was still dealing with some pretty nasty depression and let me tell you! This movie would not have inspired me to look on the bright side of life. In fact, at the end of it I watched the credits and thought “Well. What a great movie to convince people the exact opposite of It’s a Wonderful Life!” Maybe that wasn’t the outright intent, but it’s certainly a large chunk of what I got out of it.

The movie revolves around a young man named Donnie. He’s had some troubled times in the past year or so. Or maybe longer. I got the impression that it wasn’t more than a year, but not much less either. The movie doesn’t bother to make it clear and that’s okay, because ultimately it doesn’t matter how long he’s been having trouble. What’s important is that just recently he’s started sleepwalking and having hallucinations of a giant grey rabbit. Or a man in a giant grey rabbit suit. Either way. The rabbit’s name is Frank and Frank tells Donnie that the world is going to end soon. In 28 days. And he has things he needs to do. And so Donnie does them. The prior troubles Donnie’s had involved setting an abandoned house on fire and getting suspended and having to see a psychiatrist and take medication, which he doesn’t want to take. And it would be one thing for this movie to be about a teenage boy having a psychotic break and not knowing what’s real or not. It’s an entirely different thing when his sleepwalking and hallucinations keep him out of the house when a jet engine appears out of nowhere and falls right through his bedroom ceiling, crushing where he would have been.

It’s an event like that which lends credence to a paranoid mind’s obsessions. With Frank’s encouragement Donnie floods the school and sets fire to another house. He worries his parents and fights with his sister. At home he seems to be a typical teenage guy. I knew plenty of teenage guys who fought with their parents and acted out. Most of them did not go on to perpetrate enormous property damage. They also weren’t hallucinating and starting to believe in time travel. So, that’s where they and Donnie differ. Anyhow, Donnie’s kind of obsessed with this whole idea of time travel and that he’s seeing things like trails showing the paths people will take. He’s still seeing Frank and Frank is still incredibly creepy. His psychiatrist is growing alarmed at his talk about Frank and the end of the world and his parents are perplexed, unsure of just what to do. Meanwhile, Donnie’s leading sort of a double life. He hangs out with his friends and gets himself a girlfriend – the new-to-town Gretchen Ross – and when he’s not seeing paths or Frank or causing destruction he appears “normal.”

It’s an odd movie, really. Because one could take it as a commentary on the nature of teen angst. It’s full of things like unrequited crushes and bullies and school officials being pressured to fire staff members for their reading list choices. It’s got a smarmy self-help guru the gym teacher’s bought into and Donnie’s a middle child with a cool older sister who’s going to Harvard and a cute younger sister who’s a dance team champ. And there’s Donnie, who had to miss some school and see a shrink and take pills. Of course he’s angry and angsty. And through it all the movie has an almost dream-like quality. It’s early autumn and school’s just starting for the year and Donnie’s not quite entirely present in reality 100% of the time. Thinking back on it now I have this impression that many things happened in slow motion even though I know it can’t be as much of the movie as I’m thinking.

The movie’s ending, which is where the time travel really comes in, is one of those endings that one could take in several different ways. It could be a time paradox, or it could be an alternate reality or it could have been imaginary or it could be all three. I know for a fact Andy interpreted it differently than I did and I hadn’t really considered his interpretation and it’s entirely possible that had I not spoken during the credits he wouldn’t have considered mine. On one hand, that sort of writing can come off as hopelessly pretentious. On the other, if handled well I think it can work without making the viewer feel baffled. And I think this movie handles it well largely because there’s enough material in the movie to work with. And that says to me that the people making the movie considered what people might interpret it as, instead of just being mysterious and hoping people made up their own meanings.

Personally, while I’m not about to tell anyone that I’m right and they’re wrong, my initial interpretation of the movie’s end is rather bleak. Well, bleak for Donnie. I meant what I said about the movie feeling like an anti-It’s a Wonderful Life. With the engine falling on Donnie instead of Donnie being out with Frank when his bedroom is crushed, it changes everything. But instead of seeing what the world would be like without Donnie, we see what it’s like with him. Sure, at least one person gets what’s coming to him, but other innocent people get hurt. Without Donnie around causing trouble the school wouldn’t flood. People wouldn’t die. So Donnie dies. And when he does the ripples through the timeline are felt by all the people affected.

It does leave the question of Frank’s identity and importance and just how he came to be Donnie’s hallucination rather up in the air. But then most interpretations probably would. Certainly the real Frank seems affected by Donnie’s death, but up until the end he didn’t seem to have much of any connection with Donnie. He was just an artist, making a twisted mask for Halloween. Who is he? Who was he? Why did Donnie see him? I don’t know. And to be honest, I prefer not knowing. I like the idea that there’s something supernatural and mysterious at work in this movie. I like the idea that regardless of the science discussed and the technical aspects of time travel, there’s something unknowable at work. For much the same reason I love that the movie is set in the 1980s. Why is it set in the 80s? Who cares? It just is. And it suits the movie. It’s not an overt stereotype of a movie. It’s a sci-fi supernatural period piece. Which works. And apparently it works for people in vastly different ways. And I like that too.

August 31, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 542 – The Goonies

The Goonies – August 24th, 2011

We’re on hiatus from Narnia at the moment, since the BBC productions are about three hours long each and while tonight that would work, tomorrow I do not have three hours to spend watching a movie, regardless of how nostalgic it might be. So we’re taking two days off so we can watch the BBC adaptations back to back to back over the weekend. So! We needed to pick a movie tonight. When Andy got home this evening he was a little cranky. Long days do that, and when I have a long day goodness knows I am the queen of cranky. Therefore, when picking a movie I gravitated to comfort movies and this caught my eye. Andy’s suggested it a few times and I’ve always said nah, some other time. And this is why. It is a comfort movie, more for Andy than for myself, and I didn’t want to waste it on a night when we didn’t need something fun and easy to watch. Tonight? We needed fun and we needed easy. So I’m glad we held onto it.

This is one of those movies that every geek within Andy’s generation and my generation should know. It’s a classic, and not just a classic but an underdog classic. Geeks love a story where outcasts win. I remember watching this as a kid and being just slightly too young for it to make the impact on me that it made on my peers. A couple of years later I saw it again and enjoyed it a lot more, but I think because I’d already seen it, it was just never going to make that impression. I can enjoy it and it makes me smile and I’m all for the Goonies as a group, but I can think of other movies that speak to me more and I feel a little frustrated with myself for that.

On the surface it’s an odd movie. Below the surface too, but even up top it’s got its oddities. It’s one of those stories about a nasty rich guy trying to take advantage of or shove out the poor but goodhearted family or families of the hero or heroes. This is not an uncommon plot for a movie, especially a kids’ movie. The money-grubbing adult makes a good villain, especially when they have a stuck-up jackass of a kid for the juvenile heroes of the movie to square off against directly. And so of course we have here Mr. Perkins, who is foreclosing on the houses belonging to the Goonies’ families to expand his country club, and we have his son Troy, who bullies the Goonies themselves and treats his girlfriend (who joins up with the Goonies later) like crap. There’s just a lot here that feels like it could be standard. And then there’s the adventure into a series of caves under the cliffs near the Goonies’ homes, with booby traps, treasure and a family of criminals after them.

The basic plot involves the foreclosure and the Goonies – Mikey, Mouth, Data, Chunk, Brand (Mikey’s older brother) and later Andy and Stef – going off on an adventure to try and make the most of their last weekend together. Sure, they’re going off to search for lost pirate treasure, but I get a very Swallows and Amazons sort of vibe from this adventure. They head out to follow the map more to have an adventure, not because they truly think they’ll find treasure. Sure, treasure would be amazing, but an adventure together with friends is the initial purpose. It’s only when the kids encounter the Fratellis, one of whom is an escaped convict, that things actually get dangerous. Until then it’s more imagination than reality for them. And I love that idea of a typical kids’ adventure turning into something far more real than expected. And I also love that the Goonies rise to the occasion.

Once the Goonies are in the caves, dodging booby traps set by pirate captain One-Eyed Willie, it’s sort of a chase movie. The Fratellis are behind them and the Goonies know it. But they’re also determined. The traps are silly and fun and the movie establishes a lot of the set-up for them early on with Mikey’s house’s Rube Goldberg-esque front gate. And then there’s Chunk, left behind with the Fratellis’ brother, Sloth. Now, Sloth is my one real point of discomfort with this movie. He’s a joke and a hero and a joke because he’s a hero and he’s handled largely positively, but he’s also a caricature of a physically deformed and mentally disabled man and I can’t help but think of the Toxic Avenger when I see him. I’m just not fond of the movie’s use of the character, that’s all.

Outside of that and the stereotype that is Data (and to nitpick – while his inventions might well work in theory, his materials are so flimsy they would never hold up to that sort of use), however, I do love many the characters. One of the things I really love about the movie is that it’s got some really impressively subversive stuff in it, mostly in the form of Mikey’s brother, Brand. He’s clearly a bit of a jock, what with all the working out, and he’s cute, but he doesn’t have his driver’s license and he seems to be regarded as a dork, likely because of a combination of that and the fact that he’s pretty damn smart. He’s not an easily pigeonholed character, and I love that. I love that he’s genuinely concerned about his brother. I love that he hangs out with the Goonies. I love that he’s unabashedly himself, which makes him a Goonie regardless of his age.

Despite its silliness, it’s clearly meant to be an empowering movie, and not just in a ‘they found pirate treasure and saved their homes from foreclosure’ way. It’s meant to say it’s okay to be proud of being unique. It’s okay to be yourself and embrace the things that make you you. It’s okay to make your own decisions and stand on your own two feet. I love when Andy gives Troy’s sweater back. I love Mikey’s speech at the bottom of the well. On top of the movie being a fun action and adventure story for kids, it’s also a good story about friendship and individuality and letting your freak flag fly with pride. No, it isn’t the banner I hold over myself, but I get it. And I do enjoy it.

August 24, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 502 – The Breakfast Club

The Breakfast Club – July 15th, 2011

This is one of those movies we’ve been saving. It’s an old favorite of mine and I know it by heart, plus I’ve had years to think of things I want to say about it. Because while it is a favorite of mine, I have some issues with it. There was no special reason for watching it today. It wasn’t a terrible day and we aren’t celebrating the 1980s. But we did have breakfast for dinner (cinnamon french toast and bacon) and I did have a long and tiring day full of shifting books around and this was both familiar and welcome at the end of a day like that. And perfect to go with breakfast.

John Hughes has made a number of iconic 1980s movies but this one is, perhaps, the best known movie of his little list. I always liked that it was basically a character study, or a series of character studies, that covered a range of character types. The plot here is almost nonexistent because it’s not a movie that needs a complicated plot. And what makes it so simple also allows the characters to be seen more entirely instead of in focus on a specific issue. What would we learn about Duckie in Pretty in Pink if we got more of him than just his crush on Andie? How much more would we know about Jake in 16 Candles if we saw him outside of the ill-fated party he throws? Strip off the friends and the parties and the long-standing crushes from everyone in these movies and toss the characters together to interact without it all. And that’s what you get here.

There are really only seven characters here, and two of them are minor in comparison to the other five. There’s Vice Principal Vernon and there’s Carl, the janitor, and they get some good moments both with the kids and away from them. And then you get the five central figures: John Bender, Brian Johnson, Claire Standish, Allison Reynolds and Andrew Clark. A criminal, a brain, a princess, a basketcase and an athlete, respectively. At least, that’s what they are according to the social circles they’re in and the labels given to them both by the adults around them and their peers. A few of them know of each other – Claire and Andrew clearly have friends in common and their social circles mingle – but in general these are five people who don’t normally interact with each other and never would have if not for the fact that they have to spend an entire Saturday at school in detention together.

And that right there is the set-up for the movie. It’s about these five teenagers and how they are so very different but have to spend a day together and how through that day they find out about each other. Now, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the point of the movie is to show that they’re all the same. It’s more that the point is that despite their differences, they all face different aspects of the same pressures and while they react differently to it all they are all reacting. And they don’t end up throwing off the trappings of their social circles (except one and I will get to that because I have Things To Say) and declaring that they’re not going to take it any more, but perhaps they learn enough about each other to be more open about the experiences of others. Maybe not in high school, but later on. And they definitely all end up having to face some unpleasant truths about themselves.

All five are in detention for different reasons. Bender pulled a fire alarm, Claire ditched class to go shopping, Andrew bullied another student, Brian brought a gun to school and Allison simply had nothing better to do for the day (which is amusing considering that Vernon doesn’t seem to realize she doesn’t belong there – one would think he’d have a list but that’s just how little he cares, apparently). We don’t know these reasons right at the start. We learn about Claire early and John’s infraction is shared with the group by Vernon. But Andrew and Brian tell the others later, after they’ve all bickered and prodded and tested (and gotten high and danced while Vernon isn’t around). And Allison shares when everyone else has had a say.

Allison is my biggest problem with this movie. I love her character, who is quirky and odd and not in a cutesy way either. She’s genuinely an outsider and she seems to like it that way for most of the movie. Until Claire makes her over, taking off her heavy make-up and giving her a white headband to hold her hair back and somewhere she gets a frilly sleeveless top to wear and then Allison isn’t Allison the basketcase. She’s not Allison the outsider. She’s Allison the just-like-everyone-else. She does protest a little, pointing out to Claire that she still likes her heavy black eyeliner, but then she wins the jock’s favor with her new softened cookie-cutter image and it makes me want to puke. None of the other characters give up any of the core of what makes them themselves, but Allison does. So she can be palatable to the jock in a socially acceptable way.

Honestly, I think what this movie does right vastly outweighs what it does wrong. It does so much right, from starting everyone out on rocky footing and then giving them a common enemy in the thoroughly detestable Dick Vernon to having them bond through fun only to end up having a serious discussion of their problems. The performances are fantastic and each character manages to become sympathetic in turn, even after being unpleasant in other ways. Claire is conceited and privileged, assuming that she and her friends are indeed universally adored. But she’s also right in being sick of being unable to do anything without her friends’ approval and she’s right in being sick of being a pawn in her parents dysfunctional relationship. Andrew is a bully who physically assaulted another student, causing him physical and emotional harm. But he owns up to the fact that he can’t think for himself and that he wants out from the pressure his father puts on him and that he feels crushing guilt for what he did. Brian and Andrew end up finding more in common than they realized, sharing pressure but one for athletics and one for academics. Brian’s an intellectual snob but he’s also entertained suicidal thoughts and while no one encourages that, it’s clear that no one in the group wants him to feel that way. Bender’s straight up an asshole to everyone in the group but Allison, whom he largely ignores. But you hear more about his home life than anyone else’s and what you hear is more than unpleasant and definitely more common than I care to consider. Allison you learn the least about, but everything about her says she’s used to being invisible and always expects the worst, so she acts out and has no social skills and doesn’t see why she should act any different. And their conversations are interesting and telling and then it all goes to hell. Because of romance.

This is the problem: The movie tries to pair everyone off. Bender and Claire makes sense, even though he’s said some pretty incredibly horrible things to her. He’s the bad boy who’ll horrify her parents and he gets the cred for having scored a prom queen. But Allison and Andrew have never made sense to me. They’re paired off just because. There’s no real lead in to it and the only character development purpose to it is to make Allison “normal” and because she is so changed Andrew just gets a pretty girlfriend. One wonders what his father would think once he meets Allison and realizes she’s not precisely a cheerleader. And of course, since there are five characters and we’ve already paired off Bender (who is very much the most noticeable character) and Claire we’ve got to pair off someone else! Must have more romance! And that leaves Brian out in the cold. I remember watching this for the first time and wondering why the nerd got left alone. He was definitely my favorite. But no, while the other four end up smooching he sits and writes a paper for everyone to hand in to Vernon. Alone and stuck with doing everyone’s homework too (manipulated into it by Claire, of course). What a disappointment.

There’s a whole lot in this movie that I consider to be brutally honest and rather daring to put on film. It says uncomfortable things about teenagers and the things they think and say and do and feel. The whole bit with Vernon and Carl talking about the kids and the future? That’s not meant to be comforting to adults. And it’s not really meant to be comforting to kids either. It’s not a neat movie, full of easy answers. But then the ending is all wrapped up in frilly bows, as if doing someone’s make-up or handing them a diamond earring will change their lives or who they are. And the nerd is still alone. After all of these truths and discussions, with the ending declaring that each of the kids is a criminal, a basketcase, an athlete, a princess and a brain, at the same time, it’s undermined its own message. So I prefer to ignore the ending and cut the movie off before all that happens. When it’s still saying something interesting and not something predictable.

July 15, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 478 – The Terminator

The Terminator – June 21st, 2011

When I was in grade school one of my classmates was an avid fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger. He even named his dog (a female sharpei) Arnold. I just couldn’t see the appeal. To be honest, I still can’t. But even so, I will admit that his presence in this movie is perfect for the role. I’ve read stuff about other actors being considered for the part and no. I just can’t see it. This role is Arnold’s. From the first moment you see him through the last bit of time he has on screen, he is iconic as the Terminator. And while that might not be the mark of a great actor, it is the mark of a perfectly cast role.

It took me a while to see this movie for just that reason. It seemed to be so very full of Arnold and I wasn’t big on Arnold and so why would I watch this movie? Well, because it’s one of the best time travel sci-fi action movies ever made. That’s why. I don’t expect everyone to love this movie and I can certainly see flaws in it, but there’s a reason it’s a so-called “modern classic” and it’s not just the title character. It’s the whole package. Personally, I really like the plot and how it all comes together.

It’s a time travel plot, which was apparently done out of necessity because there was no way the movie was going to get the budget it would have needed to be entirely in the future. But that time travel plot works. Got some holes? Sure! What time travel plot doesn’t? But it’s kept fairly simple for the most part. Way off in the future (which will obviously be the past eventually – that’s the trouble with anything set in the future) the world is a nightmare where mechanized tanks hunt people down and what’s left of humanity is fighting to survive against implacable foes. You know, your standard issue dystopia. As we learn later, the machines that have taken over the world are in danger thanks to a resistance force of humans led by a man named John Connor. To rid themselves of this man they send a super machine – a Terminator – back in time to kill Connor’s mother, Sarah, before he’s born. Why yes, that would create a paradox! But like I said, this is a time travel plot. That’s just how these things go. Let’s run with it. Resistance fighter Kyle Reece follows the Terminator back in time to find Sarah and protect her and so the stage is set.

Okay, I might have lied a little when I said that the Terminator itself isn’t why this movie is iconic. He is really important and I think with anyone else playing the role it just wouldn’t have been the same. Because the movie hinges on the threat from the Terminator. He has to be the serial killer in the slasher flick. He has to be the ultimate unsympathetic villain. You have to believe that this creature is willing and able and determined to kill not only Sarah but anyone between himself and her and you have to believe that there is no stopping him whatsoever. And Schwarzenegger delivers here. After the movie was over Andy mentioned to me that he thought the Terminator is a “single spine” character. That is, a character who can only really be performed with a single motivation. Most characters, if you really dig into them, will have a couple of possible motivations and the trick to playing them well is for the actor to choose the one that works for them. The Terminator, on the other hand, has one goal and one motivation: Kill Sarah Connor. But then, I don’t think he’s really a character. He has no personality and no background and no name. It’s not even a matter of not knowing who he is. It’s a matter of there not being anything to know. He’s a plot device, not a character.

All that being said, I think that’s perfect. He’s a cyborg from the future, bent on killing our heroine and as many extras as possible. It makes him horrifying and impossible to know and that in turn makes the humans in the story that much more sympathetic. When we meet Sarah she’s decently likable and all, but she’s not necessarily a deep character we want to root for. Until we see her sudden realization that with the deaths of two other Sarah Connors in the area, her life is in danger. Until we see Kyle Reece grab her and tell her “Come with me if you want to live.” Because suddenly we know that Sarah Connor is important. She might be a scattered waitress who gets stood up for dates right now, but she’s going to be crucial somehow. And she has no idea why.

While I’m never thrilled at female characters being built only on the fact that they have wombs, I don’t mind it here. Because not only do you know that Sarah Connor had a child who led a revolution, but you know that he lived to fight that revolution because his mother taught him how to survive. And I love seeing Sarah realize it all. That if she wants to live and if she wants her son to live and if she wants humanity to survive, she needs to learn all these skills and she needs to learn them fast. She is hands down one of my favorite characters in an action movie, ever, and not because she’s bad-ass (that would be tomorrow’s movie), but because she’s not. Not yet. But she has the potential. And that right there suggests that we all have that potential. That if we were told tomorrow that the future depended on us we could rise to the occasion. And that’s a good thought to have.

As an action movie it does its job nicely, with plenty of car chases and gun fights and speed holes and explosions. The Terminator even shoots up a police station, so that’s obviously going to make for some decent action. The climactic fight scene with the Terminator’s mechanical skeleton still coming after Sarah is as iconic as Schwarzenegger in a black leather jacket and those sunglasses and with good reason.

It’s easy to make fun of the movie’s fashion and dated technology (VHS tapes, cassette walkman with a shoulder strap, not to mention Linda Hamilton’s feathered hair) but really, the effects stand up to time. The future scenes are still pretty solid and the Terminator’s repair scenes are still as good as anything I’ve seen. The script isn’t brilliant but it’s got some great memorable lines and when the movie’s action scenes and character interaction work as well as they do, the script doesn’t have to be full of nuance and insight. Nuance and insight would be kind of silly here. So the movie delivers exactly what it should, Arnold and all.

June 21, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment