A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

September 13, 2011

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

I really have fun watching this movie, but I have to admit that I’m conflicted about it. When it first came out in theaters I refused to go see it because I didn’t want to watch a movie that lionised s notorious rule-breaker. My sister saw it and loved it, but the marketing campaign, which concentrated on how Ferris was so well liked by all the various groups in his high-school (“They think he’s a righteous dude” says Grace) and how he could get away with things that other kids could not really turned me off.

It’s important to recall that I have a deep-seated disdain for rule breakers and cheaters. I don’t even like to use cheat codes in video games. So this movie about a high school student who flaunts the rules at every opportunity just didn’t appeal to me.

Eventually, of course, I saw the movie and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s by far my favorite movie that John Hughes ever directed (although my favorite movie he was involved in is still Some Kind of Wonderful.) I fully understand the appeal of a movie that is about a guy pulling a fast one on the somewhat dim adults who try to tell him what he can or should do. I certainly don’t go so far as to root for the nasty vice-principal Ed Rooney. I do, however very much sympathise with Ferris’ sister Jeanie and his friend Cameron.

The plot here is simple, really. Ferris Beuller is a high school student without fear who decides one gorgeous spring day not to go to school. He feigns illness, badgers his best friend Cameron (who is also out sick, but actually does feel unwell) into coming and getting him, springs his girlfriend out of school with a fake death in the family, and goes out for an exiting day on the town in Chicago. Meanwhile his nemesis, the self-important and petty Ed Rooney, does everything in his power to find and trap Ferris.

The charm in this movie lies in the slick presentation. So charming and witty is Ferris that I can almost root for him and his rule-breaking ways. The fourth wall is not so much broken as almost completely ignored for large portions of the movie as Ferris addresses the audience directly through much of the start of the movie. There’s a magical feel to many of the events in the movie. We see Ferris outwit not just Rooney, but the snooty maitre’d at an upscale restaurant. His sickness becomes the stuff of legend within the single day he’s out of school. He catches a foul ball at a baseball game, visits a museum and rides on a parade float. So iconic and well written is Ferris that poor Matthew Broderick has been largely unable to escape from the role in all the years since this movie came out.

Like I said, this is a fun film to watch. You can’t help wanting to see just how Ferris is going to pull off his latest scam. The soundtrack is full of great songs. Ferris’ outrageous adventures are wonderfully entertaining. Even so, I still find that there are parts of this movie I have trouble watching. Most especially I feel awful for Cameron. The movie tries hard to say that it’s ultimately a good thing that Cameron learn to break out of his shell and stand up to his dad, but I can’t help feeling that Ferris spends practically the whole film ruining Cameron’s life. Maybe if we got to see Cameron’s father and build some sort of enmity towards him i could feel better about the end of the film, but mostly it just makes me sad for the poor lug.

I guess what I’m saying is that I enjoy this movie, but I feel bad for it. It’s an entertaining, funny romp of a film about a charming guy having adventures on a day when he should be trapped in school getting an economics lecture from Ben Stein. I just wish I didn’t find Ferris Beuller himself so reprehensible, and I wish that Cameron got a happier ending.

September 13, 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

The Breakfast Club

July 15, 2011

The Breakfast Club

Amanda was wiped out after a long day at work today and suggested we have breakfast for dinner. So I made cinnamon french toast and bacon with scrambled eggs, and I wondered aloud “what would be a good movie to watch while having breakfast for dinner?” To which she replied “How about The Breakfast Club?” Sounded perfect to me.

I was a freshman in high school when this movie came out. I didn’t see it however until probably two or three years later when it was on video. At the time I was not terribly comfortable with the movie. I enjoyed the rebellion against authority thing well enough I suppose, but there was a lot of vulgarity and talk about sex and drug use that I didn’t particularly enjoy. You have to remember just how painfully and awkwardly nerdish I was at that age. I made Brian, the nerd in this movie, seem positively outgoing and sociable.

Of course this movie is the quintessential eighties movie about being a teenager, so I guess I have to cut it some slack. John Hughes touched a nerve with this movie and insured a career of speaking to teenagers for years to come. Something about this story of five kids with desperate backgrounds bonding during a Saturday in detention rang true for millions of kids struggling to figure out who they were and how they fit into the world, and has continued to do so for decades since.

It’s a startlingly simple plot: five kids, each representing a different high school stereotype, are forced to spend a Saturday together in detention. There’s a jock, a princess, a nerd, a rebel and a basket case. The loud mouthed and irritating assistant principal Vernon tells them that they are not aloud to move from their seats in the library and must each write an essay about “who do you think you are.” Because they are all from different social strata they find it initially difficult to get along, but as the movie progresses they start to find common ground and discover that maybe they’re more than the labels that are applied to them. It helps that they have a laughably inept but self-obsessed authority figure they can collectively agree not to listen to.

It’s pure fantasy, of course. That’s part of its appeal. It is about teenagers learning something about themselves and sticking it to “the man.” In that regard I think I liked Ferris Bueller a lot more. This movie tries too hard to make these clear stereotypes feel more human. It tries to make them real people with insecurities and teenaged angst and all that, witch doesn’t fit with the parts of the movie that feel more like wish fulfilment. At least the characters acknowledge that their little bonding session is fantasy – with Claire (the princess) stating right out that even after learning that these other people could be her friends she wouldn’t acknowledge them in the light of day.

There’s so much in this movie that even now I don’t enjoy. John Bender (the rebel) is the big instigator of everything that happens and I think he’s supposed to be the “hero” of the movie, if it could be said to have one, but he’s so abrasive and irritating as a character. He’s precisely the kind of person I spent most of my high school years avoiding. So is the jock, Andrew. I sympathise most (of course) with Brian the nerd and Allison the oddball, because I was very much both of those things in my formative years. But this movie spends so much time trying to make Brian cool by association, and it utterly betrays Allison in the end, turning her into just another pretty girl when she started out as so cool and dark and peculiar.

On the other hand, there’s a lot of fun moments and laughs in this movie. It has that John Hughes hipness that permeated all of his films, and it’s hard to resist that simple appeal. I might not think much of the stereotypes and the characters on display, but at least I can appreciate an attempt to say that people are more than the cliques they hang in. The notion that people are more complex than we allow ourselves to believe with our first impression is fundamental to my view of the universe, so it’s nice to see that in a movie.

I actually do like this movie. I can’t help myself. I don’t enjoy being reminded of my awkward teenage years (this would be why I don’t attend high school reunions) but this movie is an unavoidable part of the common lexicon of anybody who grew up as part of my generation or of any generation after mine. Maybe I just resent the fact that the nerd doesn’t get the girl in the end. At least my own story turned out better.

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

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

June 16, 2011

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I own the box set that contains the complete television series that was inspired by this movie. I bought it for almost nothing from the Suncoast Video store I used to manage when it was going out of business. I haven’t watched all of the series (I pretty much stipped watching it when Tara was killed) but I did love it – especially in the earlier years. When it first came out though I was skeptical because although I had seen this movie in the theaters and enjoyed it I couldn’t really conceive why anybody would want to re-make this. It’s a somewhat uneven movie, after all, and so light hearted as to appear vapid as its protagonist at times. I didn’t really think there was enough material there for a television series.

Over time, of course, I have learned not to underestimate Joss Whedon, but tonight’s review is about this movie, which came out long before that name meant anything to me. What it is is a fun sort of teen vampire movie in the vein of Lost Boys (though not quite as good.) Buffy is a brainless cheerleader who cares about nothing but shopping with her tight group of Heathers. Her biggest challenge is picking a theme for the high school senior dance (they chose the environment – because she’s concerned about the ozone layer. That’s got to go.) She has a secret though which she’s never told anybody. She has reoccurring dreams of past lives where she used to fight vampires. A strange old man shows up one day and tells her that this is because she is the chosen slayer – a girl destined to fight the never ending tide of vampires that plagues the world.

So Buffy has a training montage and discovers that she has a purpose in the world, which makes it much harder for her to hold on to her childhood dreams of marrying Christian Slater and moving to Europe. There are vampires in her home town, led by a sinister elderly master named Lothos who has been hunting the slayers down through the years, waiting for one to be a worthy opponent. As Buffy begins to realize how shallow her old life was she befriends a local townie named Pike who is the sort of person she used to ridicule in the old days. Naturally everything comes to a head when Lothos encourages his vampire horde to invade the senior dance to draw Buffy out of hiding so he can confront her and destroy her.

There’s a lot of silly fun in this movie. Paul Reubens steals every scene as the vampire second in command Amilyn (going so far as to get a stinger near the end of the closing credits.) Stephen Root is the clueless principal who drones on about his drug experiences in an attempt to seem hip. (I prefer Armin Shimerman as a principal foil for Buffy, but Root provides a number of good laughs.) Luke Perry as Pike sort of plays with his 90210 heart-throb status and is somewhat of a goof, which I enjoyed. I even enjoy Kristy Swanson as Buffy, with her valley girl attitude.

It is not a movie without its flaws though. Donald Sutherland (better known for his role as the clumsy waiter) sleep walks through his performance as Buffy’s mentor and watcher Merrick. I suppose it must have been trying to be playing a humorless fogey and exposition machine in an action comedy, but he almost looks like he doesn’t want to be there at all. Then there’s the utterly bizarre performance of Rutger Hauer as the vampire Lothos. He looks ridiculous with that silly mustache and he seems to be having a lot of trouble enunciating around his fangs, resulting in a very mealy-mouthed delivery to many of his lines. (Did he have something against re-recording in ADR?) I don’t know, maybe the fault lies with director Fran Rubel Kuzui, who might have felt that since this is a comedy the main villain should be laughable. In my opinion it leaves the movie feeling flat and lifeless right when it should be rousing and adventure filled.

Still. It is a movie with a lot of great quotable bits and some very funny performances. It stumbles a bit in its never-ending and desperate attempts to keep us laughing, but I enjoy it nonetheless. I am very glad, however, that Joss got a chance to re-boot the idea and do it his own way, because the television series is a thing of beauty filled with humor, surprising emotional depth and some strong messages about how hard growing up can be.

June 16, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 471 – 10 Things I Hate About You

10 Things I Hate About You – June 14th, 2011

On our big list of movies (the one we keep for ourselves) we have a lot of little notations. We’ve got a column for whether a movie is subtitled, whether I’ve seen it, whether Andy’s seen it, if it’s part of a series and which series it’s part of, running time, etc. One column is “special” and has notes like whether the movie is a holiday theme or horrifically cheesy. Or if it’s a comfort movie. Something so familiar and well-loved that we can put it in on the worst day and it will require little to no actual energy investment but we’ll end up watching it anyhow because we can’t help but enjoy it. And this is one of those movies. We save these for horrible days. Days when the idea of watching something new and untried is just more than we can bear. Days when we’re recovering from oral surgery and have to hold off on the Vicodin. Again.

So I picked this off the list because it is hands down one of my favorite movies. I know most of it by heart and while I can identify many many flaws in it, they all end up fading because I love it too much to let it be ruined. There are questionable actions all over the place, but the core of the movie is actually handled very well, which I greatly appreciate. It’s a teen fluff movie on the surface, but really it’s a sharp bit of comedy that comments on sexual predators, individuality, growing up and a whole host of issues pertinent to teenhood. So it makes a misstep here and there. I’m willing to forgive it because it’s so spot on in so many other places.

The plot is loosely based on Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. Not my favorite of his plays, largely because I think the societal issues inherent in it just don’t allow it to fully translate to me as a modern viewer. Even as a farce I’ve never really warmed to it. It feels off. Fortunately, this movie takes the basic story and modernises it, giving the characters motivations and reactions that are far more palatable. Everyone here is given a clear role to play and the audience is given no doubt as to how to feel about them. The good guy does questionable things but he clearly feels crappy about it. The bad guy is a total douche and we’re supposed to know that and cheer when he gets his comeuppance. Not once are we supposed to see the heroine’s attitude as unacceptable (a little strong, but not unacceptable). We’re supposed to sympathize with the heroes and boo the villains. And we’re supposed to laugh, because this is a comedy, after all.

And it’s a good comedy! It’s really an ensemble comedy, despite having the clearly identified leads of Patrick and Kat, played by Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles, respectively. There’s Kat’s sister, Bianca, and Bianca’s two suitors: The sweet and dorky Cameron and the douchetastic and predatory Joey. There’s Cameron’s friend, Michael. There’s Bianca’s friend, Chastity. There’s Kat’s friend, Mandela. And there’s Patrick’s friend, who sadly never gets to say any lines on camera (his sole purpose is to look menacing and add to Patrick’s reputation as a bad boy). Add to them the adults in their lives (guidance counselor Ms. Perky, English teacher Mr. Morgan, gym coach Mr. Chicken and Kat and Bianca’s father) and you have a really fantastic cast of very funny people. This movie is what made me fall in love with Allison Janey, who plays the guidance counselor (who spends all her time writing a romance novel).

It certainly helps a fantastic cast to have a fantastic script, which this movie does. It manages to give everyone something to do, which is nice, and our two female leads get a nice bit of backstory. We find out, for example, that Kat and Bianca’s mother walked out on the family about four years back. This (along with his job as an obstetrician) creates a motivation for their father’s overprotectiveness and rule that states that Bianca can’t date until Kat does. Which seems like a great solution since Kat isn’t interested in dating. We find out that Kat dated Joey for a month when they were younger, hence her protective attitude towards Bianca. And I have to say, I love Kat. I love her so much. She is determined to make her own way and set her own course.

Kat is a large part of what makes this whole movie work for me. Because she’s meant to be seen as strong-willed and perhaps a little on the physically forceful side, but not unreasonably so. She wants to be herself and do her own thing and not be manipulated, which is what makes the whole plot with Joey paying off Patrick to take her out so very specifically meaningful for her. I mean, no one likes being manipulated, but this character has some very vehement things to say about stuff like that. So Patrick gets paid off to date her and in turn actually falls for her. And he’s the other part of what makes the movie work. Because if he was simply in it for the money or the prospect of getting laid? He’d be a thoroughly loathsome character. But he isn’t, and Ledger plays him well enough that it’s very clear that he isn’t. As he ups his price to Joey you can tell he hates what he’s doing, but keeps doing it because hey, he’s getting paid to take out a girl he actually enjoys spending time with. And what’s great about Kat is that she isn’t really tamed. She is not for one moment any less outspoken or strong-willed. She’s just begun to include Patrick in her very tight circle of trusted friends. So of course the reveal of what’s been going on was obviously going to hurt her.

I wish I could say that the Cameron and Bianca storyline is handled as well as the Patrick and Kat storyline is. And it’s not horrible! I mean, I like Cameron, who is nervous and adorable in a way that makes it hilarious to me that the same actor (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) later played Arthur in Inception. And Bianca is silly and fun and all. But the problem here is that Bianca gets a hell of a lot less character development than Kat does. With Kat you know exactly why she is the way she is and with Bianca, well, the only thing you get for her is “I happen to like being adored, thank you!” and that just doesn’t cut it for me. That being said, the interactions between the two sisters are great and the bit where Bianca realizes just what a tool Joey is and what she’s passed over by picking him instead of Cameron is really nicely done. I just wish that some of the scenes alluded to by the outtakes in the credits were still in the movie, or at least included on the DVD, because a few of them seem to hint at more development for Bianca as well as for some of the friend characters, like Michael and Mandela, who seem to just conveniently end up together.

I just love all the little moments in this movie. The quick lines and the fun performances. The deliveries on all the lines are fantastic, whether they’re comedic or serious. When you have a good cast performing a good script it’s easier to forgive things like some shallow characterization, an obvious butt joke, the flashing bit and the worst pink prom dress since Andie butchered Iona’s dress in Pretty in Pink (seriously, Bianca must have borrowed that monstrosity from someone with linebacker shoulders and C cups at least – or Chastity loaned it to her as sabotage). The lead couple works things out in a believable way for both characters. The secondary couple works out too. And the predatory jackass gets repeatedly punched in the face. I call all of those a satisfactory ending.

I do feel terrible that my review is up so very late. I just couldn’t string words together properly last night and the more I stared at my screen the more I knew I needed to just suck it up, take my painkillers and go to bed. We’re a good ways into this project and I’m starting to be a little relaxed on a few things, but hopefully the reviews will go smoother now that I’m not in horrendous pain. It was a good idea to watch this movie on a night when I couldn’t think clearly. I know it so well that I didn’t need to be thinking clearly to watch it. I could predict lines, laugh at jokes, etc. even if I couldn’t coherently write about them. Because this movie is one of my staples and I will always adore it.

June 14, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

10 Things I Hate About You

June 14, 2011

10 Things I Hate About You

Amanda is feeling pretty miserable because of her oral surgery yesterday so we decided to use one of our few reliable comfort movies. This light-hearted, fun, irreverent movie is the nineties answer to the old John Hughes brat pack movies of the eighties. It’s cute, silly, romantic, and probably one of the most perfect teen movies ever made.

The story is purportedly inspired by the Taming of the Shrew. Cameron, A young man at a new high school, instantly crushes on a girl named Bianca he sees on his first day there, only to discover that her over protective father has mandated that until Bianca’s shrewish sister Kat starts dating she may not date either. Cameron (with the help of his friend Michael) strikes upon a plan. He convinces the slimy male model Joey Donner to pay somebody to take Kat out. The guy they pick to tame the shrew is Patrick Verona, a dangerous loner and outsider. It’s all a frothy silly romp, but that’s part of the appeal of the movie.

This movie has two things going for it – the cast and the astonishingly witty script. I can’t really decide which is better. Kirsten Smith and Karen McCullah Lutz have crafted a script where just about every single line of dialog is pure gold. It’s clever, funny and very quick witted. It highlights the many cliques at Padua High School and treats them with pretty much equal disdain. The leads of our movie here are all outsiders. Kat and Patrick choose not to sink to the level of fitting in, Cameron is too new in the school to be part of a clique and his friend and guide Michael is an AV geek (though he denies it.) Only Bianca is really popular, and over the course of the movie she comes to realize that perhaps that is not all that it is cracked up to be. This is very much a movie about standing up for yourself and having the courage not to fit in, and I love it for that.

Also fun is the fact that all of the adults in the movie are almost as funny as (if not funnier than) the younger roles. There’s Allison Janney, the sad beaten wife from American Beauty as Ms. Perky the guidance councilor. There’s Daryl Mitchell, Young Lorado from Galaxy Quest, as the very cool English teacher Mr. Morgan. There’s Joe Isuzu himself, David Leisure, as the gym teacher and detention hall monitor Mr. Chapin. And stealing every scene he’s in there’s Larry Miller as Kat and Bianca’s father Mr. Stratford. Theyr’e all fantastic parts, and the source of so many oft quoted lines in our daily lexicon. Things like “What’s another word for… engorged” or “I’m confiscating this” are just somehow applicable to daily life for me and Amanda. Possibly because of the great deliveries of the actors involved. I think that Larry Miller is one of my favorite parts of the whole movie – and that’s really saying something.

Then there are the other actors. I completely fell in love with Julia Stiles here. She’s an actress who, like the character she plays in this movie, doesn’t seem to feel the need to choose safe or acceptable roles. I admire that. She plays my favorite ever Ophelia, and even the Desdemona role in another Shakespeare inspired modern retelling that we own. It was such a pleasure seeing her in the Bourne movies, where she just kept getting larger and larger parts in each film. And there’s that young Australian soap opera star Heath Ledger who went on to win an Oscar playing a villain in a comic book movie – that’s really impressive right there. Heath has such casual confidence and charm to him, it’s not hard to see why he rocketed to super-stardom.

There are certain movies that simply define the genre they’re in. Movies that are so perfect from beginning to end that they never fail to delight. This would be one of those. A perfect movie to watch on a bad day.

June 14, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 317 – Volcano High

Volcano High – January 11th, 2011

My first exposure to this movie was through MTV. For some reason they decided to do a recut of the movie, altering the plot and dubbing new lines in with the voice acting done by American rappers. They played it several times back when they first did it and eventually I saw the whole thing. And I liked it, but found it a little choppy. Only when I went looking for a copy to buy did I find out that it had been so very heavily edited. And so we got the regular version, in Korean, with English subtitles. And I liked it even more. I’ve heard it described as a polarizing movie that people either love or hate and I definitely fall under the former category.

I’m not sure what it is about this movie that makes me love it so, but love it I do. It’s utterly ridiculous, but that’s the point. It’s supposed to be this outrageous martial arts magic fest, full of over the top characters and tropes and plenty of fight scenes. There is no doubt in my mind that the folks who made this movie did so with their tongues firmly in their cheeks. Which is fantastic. It’s got a sort of serious mystical plot to it, but it’s also got a hell of a sense of humor running through everything. And while I did enjoy the strange MTV adaptation of the story, I like the more complete version better.

The movie takes place at Volcano High, an elite school where many of the students are extremely skilled martial artists. The thing is, they’re not studying martial arts. They’re mostly just high school students. And while there is a judo team and a kendo team and so on, there’s also a weightlifting team and a rugby team. And the main characters are spread out in a variety of after school activity groups. Sure, they’re kickass martial artists, but that’s sort of made out to be a matter of course. The various activity groups have a bit of a rivalry, with the weightlifting team – the Dark Oxen, led by the minor baddie Jang Ryang – being the de facto bullies. But all seems fairly even keeled, if a little uneasy, under the watchful eye of Song Hak-Rim, the best martial artist in the school.

It all comes crashing down the day our hero, super powerful but also super dorky Kim Kyeong-Su, shows up. He’s been expelled from eight schools already thanks to a total lack of control over his powers, and he’s determined not to blow this last chance, even if it means letting all sorts of chaos go on. Jang Ryang and the vice principal of the school set up Song Hak-Rim to be framed for the poisoning of the principal, who is also the keeper of an ultra powerful secret manuscript. The vice principal turns on Jang Ryang almost immediately, bringing in five sinister teachers who quickly take control of the school by means of their own martial arts skills and mystical powers. Realizing that he’s been abandoned, Jang Ryang throws in his lot with the other students and eventually there’s a big showdown in the schoolyard (in the rain) between Jang Ryang, Kim Kyeong-Su and the captain of the Kendo team, Yu Chae-i and the teachers.

Throughout the movie Yu Chae-i and her co-captain, Shim Ma, try to enlist Kim Kyeong-Su’s help. They know he’s got major skills and they know if he joined them they’d have the strength they need to rescue Song Hak-Rim and overthrow the vice principal and his cadre of evil teachers. But Kim-Kyeong-Su won’t do it. Ever since he got his mystical powers during a lightning storm when he accidentally fell into a tank of eels (yes, really) he’s been unable to control them and it’s caused him nothing but grief. So no, even though the school is in chaos and the new teachers are threatening students and his crush, Yu Chae-i, wants his help? Nope. He’s just going to do his thing and get by. It’s so outrageous it has to have been written to make fun of the concept. By the time the big climactic battle hits you know damn well what’s coming. It’s just funny.

The movie has this bizarre mix of thoroughly serious and utter parody. I mean, it’s not just slapstick or done for giggles. It’s done as homage, so there’s some care put into it all. But then the names are all presented seriously and the teachers are too and it’s all so very serious that it’s not serious at all anymore. Unfortunately for me, I think there’s likely a whole other level of humor and parody and homage going on but I’m not familiar enough with the source genre to catch it. I also don’t understand Korean and I don’t know the culture well enough to catch referenced and linguistic tricks. There’s a lot of what sounds like nonsense sometimes. Non sequitors that might still be disconnected to the plot in the original version but I have no way of knowing. I can say that the romantic subplot is a little oddly shoehorned in, but not enough so to turn me off the movie. And I like how Jang Ryang joins the other students and the whole idea of the students coming together against a common enemy after spending much of the beginning of the movie bickering. So I’m willing to put up with some missing scenes and things I don’t get because it’s so very much fun anyhow.

January 11, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion

June, 19, 2010

Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion

I’m avoiding my twentieth high school reunion today. But I’m acknowledging its existence by viewing a couple high school reunion movies. First up is this movie, which I have never actually seen before. And now, having watched it, I kind of regret not seeing it earlier. It’s such a fun, strange, and amusing piece of light hearted silliness.

It’s the tale of two slightly under-achieving girls who thought they were living their dream sharing an apartment in L.A. and clubbing and generally being BFFs, but when faced with the prospect of their tenth high school reunion they begin to think that maybe they should have done more with their lives. Romy is working as a receptionist at a Jaguar dealership, and Michelle is currently unemployed. And although they’re pretty sure they’re not lesbians they’re still the cutest couple you have ever seen. But they have no boyfriends and their financial success is not really all that impressive. All they really have is their unshakable friendship with each other. So they come up with a scheme to masquerade as successful business women (and inventors.) It goes about as well as you might think that it would.

One thing that struck me from the very beginning of the movie is that it’s technically really astonishing. You know the impossible shot in The 39 Steps where the camera moves in in a huge long tracking shot across a valley onto a mountain road and into a car window? This movie opens with a similar shot, and it completely baffled me. There’s this huge wide shot of a beach and the camera pushes in, over the beach, and up to Romy and Michele’s window and right through the curtains into their living room. Sure there’s a cut as it goes through the curtains, but how on Earth did they get the camera right up to the window like that? I can only imagine that they had some kind of wire rig and dropped the camera down from a helicopter or something and did the whole shot as it ran down a cable that was anchored over the window. Okay – I’m getting needlessly technical, but my point is this: I’m watching a silly movie about air headed friends who are going to a high school reunion, and it has a directorial flare and style I’d expect from Hitchcock. Somebody gave David Mirkin a budget and let him cut loose, and it shows.

So right there you know there’s something different to this movie. The other astonishing thing is the performances of Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino. Kudrow does this thing with Romy’s voice and inflection whenever her character is trying to impress somebody that’s so cool and kind of painful to watch at the same time. And Sorvino, with Michele’s blank stares and irrepressible perkiness, is just so much fun to root for. They have a lot riding on them in this movie, since probably half of the film is just the two of them talking to each other. Luckily their chemistry clicks perfectly and it’s just plain fun to hang out with the two of them. You can’t help wanting things to go well for them, it’s like watching kittens or puppies playing.

Added bonus: Alan Cumming as the painfully nerdy Sandy Frink and Janeane Garofalo as… the same great angry character she pretty much always plays. Both of them are a joy to watch as well.

I love the way the movie is crafted in terms of pacing and editing as well. It uses a great gimmick to introduce all the characters. The first act of the film is Romy and Michelle reminiscing about high school and leafing through their old year book, and these scenes introduce a series of flashbacks (that all start or end with the yearbook photos) that establish the extended cast. We meet Romy’s unrequited and hunky high school crush, the boy who has an unrequited crush on Michele, the foursome of girls who made life hell for both Romy and Michele, the dark and angry girl who wants no part of anybody… It’s your whole usual panoply of high school clicks and painful awkward teen-aged memories. (I also quite enjoy the way that the actors all portray their teen-aged characters. Most especially Alan Cumming, who transforms himself into an awkward and painfully shy teen-aged boy… it’s astonishing.)

The whole movie is about wish fulfilment and flights of fancy, really. It’s got a wonderfully bizarre fantasy feel to it. I don’t want to spoil it for people who haven’t watched it, but I will say that it reaches new heights in surreal weirdness about three quarters of the way through, and then comes down to earth for a while, but then delights by spiraling off into strangeness once again as it reaches its delirious conclusion.

I loved watching this tonight, and I know I’m going to watch this movie again, and soon. Because it’s an awful lot more fun than actually attending a real reunion.

June 19, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | 2 Comments

Movie 51 – Can’t Hardly Wait

Can’t Hardly Wait – April 20th, 2010

Thinking about it, I should hate this movie. It’s full of comedy of embarrassment moments, it’s got some amazingly horrible stereotypes, the nerd becomes cool by drinking, etc. But I don’t hate it. I really quite enjoy it. Part of it is that the female lead shares my name and she’s actually got a good head on her shoulders as a character. Part of it is that a lot of the stereotypes are a little twisted or really obviously over-the-top to the point of satire. And part of it is that it ends well for a lot of the people you’re supposed to give a shit about. And part of it is Seth Green. A big part of it is Seth Green. Okay, and Charlie Korsmo fits my skinny geek thing and hey, when this came out that wasn’t an age gap to speak of for me so let’s not quibble over that being skeevy.

On the surface the movie is a romantic comedy for the high school set and is supposed to center on the character of Preston, who’s a somewhat quirky but generally popular enough guy who wants to be a professional writer and his long-unrequited crush on the homecoming queen/prom queen/all around most popular girl in school, Amanda. He’s had a thing for her since freshman year, but she’s been dating the stereotypical lead quarterback, Mike, since freshman year and only just broke up with him. The night of graduation, the newly single Amanda will be at a party and Preston plans to attend and finally confess his feelings for her, which he just knows she’ll return! And that’s supposed to be the A plot. Of course it doesn’t work out that way, but really, that’s not what I watch the movie for. The B and C plots are a lot better and the party itself and all the little bits and pieces and one-shot scenes are where the humor really is.

The B plot, according to me, would be Preston’s friend Denise, a loner who didn’t even want to go to the party but accompanied Preston under protest. Once there, she gets trapped in a bathroom with Kenny, played by Seth Green. Kenny and Denise were friends when they were kids, but then Kenny wanted to be cool and Denise wasn’t cool so Kenny started wearing big jeans and listening to rap and generally being a huge poser in an attempt to fit in somehow and Denise made a hobby of rolling her eyes at him. You can probably figure out where that plot goes. But for all its ridiculousness, Kenny and his plot, and Lauren Ambrose’s Denise make for a lot of great dialogue and interactions.

The C plot is then the nerds, led by William (Charlie Korsmo), and their plan to get revenge on Mike for tormenting William for years. This is the plot that really makes me think I should hate this movie. I mean, the nerds are so incredibly stereotypical it’s almost painful. William’s friends both wear X-Files t-shirts and spend the entire movie talking about Star Wars and Star Trek and there are re-enactments of the Vader and Luke fight at the end of Empire Strikes Back and they argue over who gets to be represented by the Boba Fett action figure when they make their plans and I’d be pissed. Except um. Yeah, I would so hang out with those guys. And William goes into the party to try and lure Mike out and ends up drinking and having a great time and it turns out girls really dig him and he sings Paradise City and suddenly he’s popular! Drinking solves everything! Except it turns out that no, no it really doesn’t. It makes for some great scenes, but it’s not really a magical fix, so that’s cool.

And then there’s the party in general. Full of little moments and running jokes like the yearbook girl and the kleptomaniac kid and Mike’s friends and their girlfriends. Really, Preston and Amanda? Eh, sure, fun plot. But I’m not in it for the romance. I’m in it for the comedy. And if you do watch this? Stick around through at least a few minutes of the credits for William’s friends’ ending. It affirms my belief that the people who made the movie don’t hate the geeks, they might well have been the geeks themselves.

April 20, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Can’t Hardly Wait

April 20, 2010

Can’t Hardly Wait

Amanda, the popular girl in this movie who has just broken up with her dumb jock boyfriend, has almost exactly the same speech that Lea Thompson’s character Amanda had in Some Kind of Wonderful. The one about how she doesn’t want to be alone and doesn’t know how to be just herself. It was at that moment that I decided to turn off my brain. If you try to view this movie in the light of teen romance/comedies that preceded it your’e going to be disappointed. But if you can just turn your brain off there are a lot of fun stupid moments to enjoy.

It’s really a movie made up of little vignettes. There’s a plot about all these high school cliques coming together at a big party after graduation. There’s Mark from Empire Records who has this total unrequited crush on that Amanda girl. There’s the nerd with his revenge plan against Amanda’s ex the school jock. There’s Seth Green as “Special K” the wannabe hipster. There’s Denise who is basically Daria, the cool aloof girl (she’s my favorite part of the movie actually.) And there’s a big supporting cast of characters like the two nerds waiting to jump the jock, the guy who’s all like “hey you remember that time,” the girl who wants everybody to sign her yearbook, the high school band that just never seems to get to play any songs at the party… and so on. They’re all at this party for different reasons – and then stuff happens.

And that’s all there really is to say about that. I’m not trying to be harsh on this movie. I know it’s not going to be a favorite of mine like Empire Records or Some Kind of Wonderful, but it’s a fun little nothing of a movie. It has some great bits like the running gag with the kid who keeps stealing things (it made me chuckle, what can I say?) Everybody learns something about themselves (or not.)

I’m not certain how to take this movie. I think it’s intended to be parody, or maybe a deconstruction of a teen comedy. But as parody it is too invested in its plot and characters, and as deconstruction it’s certainly referential enough, but it doesn’t really break any new ground. It does a lot of things that other teen comedy/romances have done before and done better. (Like stealing the bit from the end of Animal House and Fast Times at Ridgemont High with the blurbs telling us what happens to the characters after the movie is over.) It just doesn’t seem to have a place of its own.

Wait… wait… that’s my brain turning back on. Sorry about that. Shut up, brain… just enjoy the funny moving pictures. There. That’s better. Heh. Funny pictures.

April 20, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment