Movies That Rule: Adventureland (2009)

Coming out of college with an unusual major and no job prospects is a hell of a scary thing.  Higher ed. ends so goddamn abruptly, and many of us are in no way prepared for those final days.  I spent my entire last semester at school in some kind of sustained haze, grilling burgers, drinking beer out on the back deck with friends and somehow managing to get the highest semester GPA I’d ever achieved in college.  I guess I’d figured out all of the ways to succeed at college without really trying.  That, in turn, gave me false hope that I’d amount to anything out there in the “real world.”

The night before I graduated, I was relaxing in my favorite dive bar with a bunch of my best friends.  We weren’t nostalgic even after ordering our sixth pitcher of the night.  Instead, we talked about random crap like it was any other night of any other year of college.  The next day, I got up, put on a shirt and tie, and zipped up my gown.  And after the keynote speaker and the whole pomp-and-circumstance, I walked back to my old college house, tossed the tassled cap onto the couch, threw the last of my stuff in my Volvo, peeled away from the curb and, only about 30 miles into my trip back home, realized the overwhelming terror.
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Movies That Rule: Dazed and Confused (1993)

April 13, 2011 1 comment

Slater: Are you cool, man?
Mitch: Like how?
Slater [rolls eyes]: Ohhhhkay…
Pink [bemused]: He was just asking if you got high…

It’s the last day of school.  It’s time to think about the future…or just get wasted instead…or both?

Dazed and Confused is a far more entertaining movie than it has any right to be.  Hearing about it from a friend seven years ago, I figured it’d be a slightly more insightful than-average high-school rom-com, but with no interesting conclusion, no boy-gets-girl, nothing.  I was hesitant to give this one a spin to say the least.  And that’s even after he told me: “This movie’s gonna change your life, bro.  It just makes sense.  It’s insane.”

Yeah, Dazed has minimal plot, and even with a couple of “main” characters, it’s a hodgepodge affair, a slice-of-life movie that switches quickly between scenes involving revolving combinations of its characters.  So why’s it so compelling, so brilliant and ‘insane,’ and in many ways, underrated?

My sort of existential answer: it just is.  Like many of the characters in the film itself, Dazed is scarily matter-of-fact–romantic, funny enough when it needs to be and understated and observant the rest of the time.

This pic, arguably director Richard Linklater’s finest achievement, does nothing in particular except explore the emotional crises of people of a certain age, using a host of vignettes to make a bigger point–one which, I think, centers on how differently we interpret our adolescent years the more we age.  Don’t approach Dazed expecting anything more.  Take it as it comes, ponder it afterward.  Then watch it again.

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My Thoughts: Running on Empty (1988)

December 29, 2010 Leave a comment

When you saw Stand By Me (1985) for the first time, who was the character you really connected with?  If you asked most people who’d seen the movie, the answer would be Gordy (Wil Wheaton) or Chris Chambers (River Phoenix), the two smartest kids in Rob Reiner’s masterpiece.  Disregarding Wheaton for the moment, good as he was, you could easily see that River Phoenix was the remarkably talented actor in the movie, even at the ripe age of 12.  He was quiet and acted self-assured.  He was also insecure and scared–a terrified teen from a terrible background–but pushed on in scene after scene with false confidence until he finally cracked.  Life must’ve been exhausting for Chris Chambers.  We know for sure that it was for the actor River Phoenix, who died of a heroin overdose at age 23.

Running On Empty, a very good movie helmed by a very good director (Sidney Lumet),  showcases River Phoenix’s talents so well that, watching it and also knowing how his life fizzled, leaves crying as the only possible outcome.

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November 10, 2010 Leave a comment

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.

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Movies That Rule: The Social Network (2010)

Just when I said 2010 was a shithole of a year for movies, The Social Network came along and changed my expectations.  This is one of the best scripted, funniest, smartest movies to come along in quite awhile.  David Fincher (Se7en) and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (“The West Wing” among other things) hit the jackpot with this story of Mark Zuckerberg, the 19-year old nerd who created Facebook out of his dorm room at Harvard and went on to become the youngest billionaire in the world.

I would’ve figured a movie about Mark Zuckerberg might be dull, but The Social Network is anything but.  It grooves along at the clip of a great thriller, easily weaving between present-day courtroom drama (where Zuckerberg is being sued by people who once considered him either friends or business accomplices) and the latter-day evolution of Facebook between 2003 and 2007.  Zuckerberg, wonderfully played by Jesse Eisenberg, a very underrated actor, is kind of out-there to say the least.  He’s practically a savant, someone like Bobby Fischer (thanks Mr. Ebert), who understands code the way some people understand chess or mathematics.  In Zuckerberg, we see shades of other film characters of recent years (from Raymond in Rain Man to John Nash in A Beautiful Mind) who are brilliant in many ways but still completely unable to connect with other people.

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The Weekly Round Up (Wed. Oct. 6th)

I got around to seeing The Town just over two weeks ago, but didn’t get a chance to start writing about it until this week.  This week’s movies include: The Town (2010); a 1980s drug-pic starring Michael J. Fox, Bright Lights, Big City (1988); a cutesy teen comedy, Some Kind of Wonderful (1987); and a gem of an indie film starring Peter Dinklage as a train-obsessed dwarf, The Station Agent (2003).

In other news, I checked out The Social Network on Monday night, and whoo boy, was that a hell of a ride.  It moves at the speed of a great thriller and showcases some really excellent performances from Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake and Andrew Garfield.  I’ll be jotting a few paragraphs about it soon.   Anyway, here’s the Weekly Round Up:

The Town (2010)

2010 has been one of the worst years in recent memory for movies and I can only hope that changes in the next several months with releases like Money Never Sleeps, a Coen Brothers interpretation of True Grit and The Social Network.  I find myself, for the first time since Inception, actually excited to go to a movie theatre again.  I’ve viewed three films–costly at $9 a pop with my expired college ID–on the big screen thus far in 2010: Crazy Heart, a 2009 flick which I absolutely adored; Inception, a killer mind-fuck that you couldn‘t possibly hate; and The Town.  All said, The Town’s been the weakest yet.  Of course, that doesn’t make it bad at all.  In fact, it’s quite good.

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Categories: The Weekly Round Up

Hughes Your Daddy

September 19, 2010 Leave a comment

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.

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Categories: Features