In my newest post about the movies of Generation-X, I chose to write a little bit about one of the funnies comedies of the 1990s, Clerks.
The movie is kinda brilliant.
One of the problems with many films made about young people in the ‘90s is that screenwriters tried so hard to make their characters hip. Think about Reality Bites, a movie that sank under the weight of forced injection of pop culture references into every scene and the characters’ boring, drawn-out examinations of their lives.
And then consider Clerks, a welcome reaction to phony movies like Reality Bites. With its biting dialogue and true-to-life feel, you might actually want to spend a few hours discussing girls and Star Wars trivia with Clerks’ characters.
Kevin Smith’s first picture, shot in black-and-white on a $28,000 budget, looks at Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson), two slackers who work in adjoining retail stores in Jersey. Dante mans the register in a QuikStop market, while Randall runs a failing video store right next door. Stuck in dead-end jobs, the college dropouts spend their days discussing Return of the Jedi, stupid customers and fetish pornography with the same fervor as PhD candidates discussing their research.
Yeah, okay, I’m definitely a few years beyond the Generation-X cutoff, but it doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy movies about our favorite late-’80s and ’90s outcasts, slackers and burnouts.
Right now, I’m writing a series of reviews of Gen-X movies, regardless of whether they’re good or not. And I’m playing the professor and assigning letter grades to each movie…something I almost never do.
To kick things off, I watched Reality Bites, a movie that’s supposedly all about Generation-X, a week ago. I sort of remember giving it a spin a few years back and, at the time, I thought it was pretty damn funny and perceptive.
My current (and less favorable) assessment:
Reality Bites (1994)
Reality Bites, Ben Stiller’s directorial debut, is an unworthy Gen-X staple, a mostly cliché story of four Houston college grads who wander out of graduation into dead-end jobs. While its opening third is perceptive and funny, it ultimately becomes just another formulaic study of young adults trying to find themselves and fall in love in a mean corporate world.
The pic stars Winona Ryder as Lelaina, valedictorian of her college class, who, armed at all times with a video camera, obsessively films all her friends being “spontaneous.” They include the sharp-tongued slacker musician Troy (Ethan Hawke), the funny and sensitive Vicki (Jeneane Garofalo) and the shy Sammy (Steve Zahn).
I’m behind on the Halloween flicks that I watched within the last couple of weeks, so the reviews of The Strangers and Paranormal Activity aren’t going to help people much (unless they’re in the mood for a big Thanksgiving Day scare this year).
The Strangers (2008)
My dad told me The Strangers was worth seeing awhile ago, but I never got around to it. I’m honestly not a huge fan of most horror movies–Halloween and The Exorcist obviously excluded–not because I don‘t like to get the shit scared out of me, but because most of them are dull, dull, dull. Blood isn‘t scary, and half the time, horror films never give you the impression that their characters are in any real danger.
Okay, so I’ll gladly watch a killer gorefest every now and then (how can you pass up The Devil’s Rejects?), and I even like to take in a truly awful ‘80s scary movie from time to time (Tourist Trap, Motel Hell). Of course, I’m not watching those movies for a good scare, but to have a chuckle at how strangely, terribly amusing they are.
So, watching director Bryan Bertino’s The Strangers with a couple of friends, I was expecting something sub-par, praying that maybe it‘d be so bad I‘d at least be howling with laughter. Most of the critical establishment panned the film. But much to my surprise, I had a great time watching this one, and I must admit I jumped sky high from my chair a whole lot while watching it.
Since I haven’t been updating this site, well, at all in the past couple of months (I’ve been busy, I think?), I’ve decided to change the format just a little bit. While I’ll still continue to write essays about my favorite movies, it makes more sense to add additional content about the films I’m watching right now. I’ll keep these blurbs short(ish) and to-the-point–basic summary, what I liked, what I didn’t like, etc.
Anyway, this week I’m going to be keeping the focus pretty narrow, but as usual, I wrote way way way too much. This is not short. Hopefully it‘s kind of to the point.
I decided over the past two weeks or so to take a quick journey back to my high-school days by revisiting some John Hughes movies. With his death nearly a year ago and the enormous tribute to him at the Oscars (so it was a bit over the top…big deal), I got to thinking about the man who defined teenage cinema. Was he really all that great of a filmmaker? Some critics seem to scorn the guy. James Berardinelli, one of my favorite online critics, mentioned after the Oscars that “[i]n the grand scheme of things, Hughes was just an average director who made a few nice little films.” He then bemoaned the fact that the tribute to dead actors, filmmakers, etc. didn’t mention Eric Rohmer.
I think that’s utter bullshit. People, especially so-called film snobs (I‘m not smart enough to be one), don’t seem to get John Hughes, or what his films mean to people of a certain age. Sure, he’s not Eric fucking Rohmer, and no he didn’t direct Claire’s fucking Knee. Don’t get me wrong–Rohmer’s a genius, and I love several of his films (I’m too dumb to understand the rest). The fact that he wasn’t mentioned just goes to show why the Academy Awards are a complete waste of time, too. However, to Americans, and especially those who grew up after 1983, John Hughes was a hero, a significant figure in American cinema who really tried to understand how kids spoke, acted in their everyday milieus and reacted to authority figures. You’d be hard-pressed to find many directors who have a better ear for teenage dialogue.