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|6 reviews in total|
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
Cameron Crowe's script for `Fast Times at Ridgemont High' has totally held up in the nearly 20 years since it's release, in its portrayal of teenage life. Virtually plotless, the movie just follows the stories of a group of teenagers as they go about life in high school. And like so many 80's teen movies, it rightfully takes place for quite a bit of its run at the local mall. I find this movie to be extremely realistic, even in its somewhat exaggerated depictions of what some of the characters do (Jeff Spicoli ordering a pizza in the middle of class, or Charles Jefferson's winning of the football game by venting his anger at the school that supposedly trashed his car). But this is, after all, a movie, and a pretty good one too. And check out all those kick-ass 80's arcade games! *drools*
I'll try and give my best recollection of each of the main character's basic storylines. Let's see, Jeff Spicoli is the ideal surfer dude, empty-headed, sporting Hawaiian shirts, and talking in irresistible slang. He dislikes the uptightness of school, particularly personified by his history teacher, Mr. Hand. The two begin to have a battle of the wills. Brad Hamilton is a senior who goes from one fast-food job to the next, who has no idea what he is supposed to do with his life, even though everyone, including his guidance counselor, expects a lot from him. Stacy Hamilton is a guy-crazy chick who is sensitive but who wants sex and attention, leading her first into the arms of an older man, and eventually into those of Mike Damone, a cocky hustler, when the only guy who genuinely cares for her is nerdy Mark Ratner. Damone is a shady character, a charming sweet-talker who scalps tickets and does what he can for a quick buck. He tries to help Ratner score with Stacy, but then steals the girl. Ratner is an insecure nerd-type who is good at heart, who works at the mall movie theater, and who just wants his shot with Stacy. He finds himself broken-hearted when he uncovers Damone's betrayal. Linda Barrett is Stacy's best friend and confidante, a sexy, confident girl who is constantly moving from one guy to the next and sort of becomes a quasi role model for Stacy. That's the basic premise for all of what goes on.
Probably the most famous line is that uttered by Sean Penn's Jeff Spicoli: `Aloha, Mr. Hand.' I'm not sure if it's the Hawaiian talk or the idiocy of the teacher's name that has made this line so supremely quoted over the years. Anyone who has seen the movie recognizes it immediately. I can say immediately that I have never, ever seen Penn play a part like this, and I don't think I've ever seen a surfer personified with such grace. Even though the conflict between Spicoli and Mr. Hand is light-hearted, I always wanted to see them having a fist-fight in the halls. Stacy's story is actually pretty serious.she winds up being the victim of a teenage pregnancy, which is not often addressed in a teen comedy. Her eventual realization that Mark is the guy for her seems natural and not scripted. And thankfully, they're only starting to date by the end of the movie, and not getting engaged or married or something equally stupid as in some lesser movies. Damone is such a weird off-beat character, and his friendship with Ratner so unusual, that I have to give Cameron Crowe credit for making it all work. Brad seems to have the least to do with the other characters but as an unsuccessful go-getter, I can definitely relate to him.
In conclusion, this is one of my favorite 80's teen movies. It goes a lot deeper than `The Breakfast Club' and its adult characters, though not well-sculpted, are treated with more warmth and humanity than many of teen comedies. It's a required viewing for teens, young adults, and anyone with a fondness for 80's culture.
The Breakfast Club
John Hughes' `The Breakfast Club' is probably the most famous teen movie of the 1980's, if not of all time. This is not to say that it's the best. But I remember it being shown as a compulsory video in health class in high school, and this because it was seen as the ideal movie to show teenage angst and troubles and the overcoming of stereotypes. I think our public education system gave the movie way too much credit in that department, but that doesn't mean they were completely misguided.
The movie features the story of Brian (the `brain'), Claire (the `princess'), Andy (the `jock'), Allison (the `weirdo'), and John (the `criminal'), five students unlucky enough to have been forced to endure a Saturday detention, spending eight hours in the same room, when they barely live in the same world. First off, were there really any schools in the 1980's that not only mandated weekend detentions, but made them 8 FREAKING HOURS LONG??? This seems to be a bit of a stretch, although many of the juvenile acts that landed the teens in detention in the first place would have warranted suspension.
The basic story is as follows: these five kids start the day with nothing to say to each other, but by the end of the movie they overcome their prejudices and become best friends, well, at least for the day, as even they realize. They open their hearts and pour out their souls, yadda yadda yadda, and realize that despite their differences, they all share the same problems: parental pressures, a world that wants to see them only one way, as one-dimensional characters, and societal stereotypes that more or less force them to be part of different worlds, when they are all basically ordinary teenagers. It's an interesting premise, not entirely clichéd given the period, and the way it all develops doesn't entirely seem fabricated.
I still find the character of the principal, Richard Vernon, now known for his famous line `I'll be cracking skulls' to be the most interesting. Yes, he's the typical teen movie `idiot adult' and ultimately a comic relief character. But he's a tad bit deeper than most. Unlike, say, Mr. Rooney, the principal from Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Mr. Vernon is not nearly as one-sided nor worm-like. He's a life-long educator who loves children, but, somewhere along the line, just lost his footing and also succumbed to societal pressure of `what a principal should be.' The kids no longer respect him, and see him as an enemy, because he's a completely authoritarian figure. I have always been left wondering if, at the end of the movie, Mr. Vernon, who reads the short note the kids have left, understands where he went wrong and becomes a better person.
In the end, I recommend this movie as a must-see to those who have not had the privilege of a viewing, and for those who have, rent it again if it's been awhile. Some of the dialogue is a bit corny, but a lot of the lines are memorable, and while there isn't much a plot per se, the movie is character-driven and focuses on giving us glimpses of who these kids (and adults, in the case of the principal and janitor) are. The movie looks and sounds SO 80's that I can't help but love it. I'm sure that, if you're part of the vast minority who has never seen it, you will too.
Falling Down (1993)
Tagged as `the adventures of an ordinary man at war with the everyday world,' Joel Schumacher's `Falling Down' tells the tragic tale of William Foster aka D-FENS, a now unemployed defense worker who finds himself trapped on a hot summer day in bumper-to-bumper Los Angeles traffic. Having been pushed past the brink of sanity, Foster loses it and storms out of his car, walking around town and trying desperately to see his little daughter for her birthday, a daughter who is untouchable because of a court order against him by his estranged wife. Along the way, Foster will run across character types we've all come across: the 'war veteran' bum who is really just a lowlife looking to score some quick cash, an irate Korean grocery store owner, a homophobic neo-nazi army retail store owner, a crusty elitist country club golf player, super friendly fast food workers, young Hispanic thugs, and so forth. And each one will chip away at what remains of his patience and tolerance for stupidity, fueling a rampage.
Up against this anti-hero is Prendergast, a veteran cop who has felt many of the same pains as Foster, but who serves as sort of a foil to him. Foster has lost everything, and while Prendergast has lost quite a bit (his wife is a basketcase, his little daughter died years ago under mysterious circumstances), he still retains some optimism, calmness, and dignity. As Prendergast, who is on his last day on the job, begins to put together the pieces of the mysterious crime spree plaguing the city (he seems to be the only one smart enough to figure out it's all the doing of one man!), it pits him in an inevitable confrontation between him and Foster.
Michael Douglas, playing Foster / D-FENS plays an incredibly complex character. On the one hand, you know much of what he does is so wrong, but at the same time there's immense satisfaction at seeing him lash out at those deserving of it. And while he tries to stay calm, he finds himself constantly provoked by those who have 'wronged society.' In fact, many of the things he does could so easily have been avoided if the 'victims' were not so positively despicable. You can't help but feel at the end of the day, when Foster gets his due, that he's, in some small way, made Los Angeles a better place despite the carnage he's unleashed.
And this is perhaps what is so strange about the movie. There seems to be no clear message. Who was right? Who was wrong? It becomes a very blurry line over the approximately 2 hours of the movie's run. I've seen it now several times and I still can't give any definitive answer. Perhaps this is a strength, that different people will view this movie in different ways. Some will see this as the story of a noble, decent man who modern society has beaten down and crushed, and who desperately tries to struggle against the tyranny and betrayal. Others will see Foster as a lunatic who needed to be put down. No one, I think, will find that Foster doesn't warrant some sympathy.
Personally, I think Foster got the wrong end of the stick. His wife's anger and fear of him seems somewhat unwarranted, and though it is clear that Foster (and not just society itself) has brought many of his problems upon his own head, he is tired and angry and rightfully resentful at the course his life has taken. He feels he has nothing to live for, so he takes it out on anyone who crosses his path. I recommend this movie because the performances are all-around great, it delivers a solid cast, and as the portrayal of one man's journey down the path of madness, few have done better.
The 90's and the early 21st century have seen an abomination in teen
Today's teen movies generally fall into one of two categories: 1) farces
that involve crude jokes, body humor, excessive sexual innuendo, and
characters that exemplify the worst teen vices (think Slackers or National
Lampoon's Van Wilder), and 2) chick flicks that involve stereotype
boy-meets-girl, popular-falls-for-outcast types that rely on emotionally
manipulative the most vulnerable of viewers, and sickening the rest of us
(think A Walk to Remember or She's All That). The movie Not Another Teen
Movie sought to poke fun at this nonsensical trend, and it saddened me.
Because there was a time and era where likeable characters, a solid
real drama, and a basis in reality were the staple of teen movies, and
Schumacher's `Say Anything' was the hallmark of that time.
The basic premise here is that John Cusack's Lloyd Dobler, a teenage kickboxer and eternal optimist underachiever who has just graduated high school, is desirous of dating the lovely valedictorian Diane Court, a girl who has never allowed herself to have any real fun outside of her academic studies. Dobler is well-liked, but he's seen as a slacker, a guy who everyone knows and can turn to, but who has no real future. But he crackles with nervous energy and a belief that he and Diane are meant for one another, if he can just get her to spend some time with him. The only major obstacle for him, aside from Diane's plans to attend college in England at the summer's end, is her overprotective father, who sees Lloyd as nothing more than a mere 'distraction.'
The title `Say Anything' refers to two things: Lloyd's penchant for fast-talking his way in and out of unpleasant situations (he'll 'say anything' to get what he wants), and Diane's father's motto that his daughter can 'say anything' to him, that no secrets will be hidden between them. It's a movie not just about love and confidence, but also about trust, and Diane is the central figure. Lloyd gives her absolute love and trust, and her father tries to do the same thing, so the movie is very much about the competition between the two of them. And the final resolution is both atypical and satisfying. There is no easy ending, no `father completely accepts Lloyd' or `father tries his best to foil Lloyd but ends up with his foot in his mouth.' I won't ruin the ending, but suffice to say, it will leave you content if somewhat disillusioned (you'll have to see what I mean here, but there's lots of warmth and fuzziness!).
I don't know what's more memorable, the scenes (Lloyd holding a boombox belting out Peter Gabriel's `In Your Eyes') or the lines (the now famous `I gave her my heart and she gave me a pen!'). But this is a must watch, with friends, lovers, or family. I can't imagine anyone but the most hard-hearted who won't fall in love with this movie. It is, simply, put, a story as well cast as it is written and told.
Walking Tall (2004)
Within the remake of 1973's 'Walking Tall,' a tribute to real-life Tennessee sheriff Buford Pusser, who stood alone in his fight against crime in a corrupt town, are the faint shades of what might have been a good movie. Unfortunately, these small glimpses are not nearly enough to make up for a devastating clichéd whole of an action film.
For instance, some of the fight scenes, though brief, are very satisfying. When Dwayne Johnson, better know as WWE's "The Rock" shows up at his former friend Jay Hamilton's casino looking for vengeance, after security guards have stabbed him and left him for dead weeks earlier, and causes a tidal wave of destruction and mayhem with a 2x4, we can't help but root for him. When Hamilton's flunkies storm the office of The Rock's Chris Vaughn, who was subsequently elected sheriff, blazing assault rifles, and Vaughn succeeds in layin' the smackdown on them with the same block o' wood, it's pure guilty pleasure.
It's only too bad the screenwriters, who it apparently took four to write this monstrosity of a picture, didn't just go completely to hell with the story and make the movie one giant action sequence. Isn't that what the Rock's fans, the core audience of the movie, is really after anyway?
The basic flaw in the film is that it's too over-the-top to be anything but mindless. The characters are shallowly contrived and we can't relate to them. The Rock's 'struggle' to bring down the town casino and re-open the closed mill, a symbol of order and decency, is all too easy for him to achieve. The original Buford Pusser, who Vaughn's ex-soldier is supposed to personify, didn't have it easy. In this movie, the odds are totally stacked in favor of the Rock. There's no sense of real tension, loss, or fear for our protagonist. He's kinda like Superman, without the kryptonite.
For those wishing to see The Rock beat on some unworthy jabronis, this is your movie. For all others, especially those who fondly recall the original, your time is better spent renting the original and basking once more in the memories. You ain't gonna find anything special here.
Dawn of the Dead
I'm not sure I can recall witnessing an opening sequence quite like the one I saw in Zack Snyder's remake of the classic horror film 'Dawn of the Dead.' Besides being rather lengthy (it's over ten minutes before we see the opening credits), it has a bizarre creepiness about it. There's something about the cinematography employed to show us 'the beginning of the end' that I really liked: that extra long image of the little girl skating away, the skyview of Sarah Polly's car as she rides home from her shift as a nurse, the picture of perfect serenity, and those intimate scenes we see of her and her husband 'the day before.' It all makes it more tragic, when, quite unexpectedly, morning comes, and with it, the end of all that is sane. The pure chaos of the scenario, an outbreak of a dangerous break of a virus that turns those infected into ghouls, comes so suddenly that it grips us by the throat.
This is one hell of a horror movie. Even for someone as jaded as myself, who has become totally jaded to any real horror thrills, I was taken aback by how uncomfortable the movie made me feel. Our heroes, holed up at the now abandoned local mall, join small groups of survivors and find themselves fighting each other as well as the zombies when the plague starts creeping ever close to bringing them all to the brink of annihilation. The zombies have an easy-to-spot weakness: one shot to the head takes them out, but they're extremely fast, and a single bite from them leads to hopeless infection and mindlessness. Although some of the story makes little sense (for instance, if the zombies can only transmit the virus by bite and the heroes are in a mall, couldn't they don the heaviest attire imaginable rather than skimpy t-shirts?), there are lots of great twists and snappy dialogue along with the required creep-outs, gore, and slaughter.
And there's some surprisingly great humor. Easily the most memorable of the light-hearted, break-the-nerves moments is when our heroes are situated atop a roof and challenge a local gun shop owner to take out look-alike zombie celebrities, which he does with ease. It's a much needed laugh to relieve the audience of a lot of built-up jitters.
Overall, this is a remake that actually works. The characters, for all their strength and weaknesses, are decently fleshed out for a horror movie. There a few unexpected surprises that even the most attentive viewer will take pleasure in. And the action moves along at a clean, fast pace. The few holes that exist in the plot and the somewhat unsatisfying conclusion are the only real problem areas, but these are to be expected in the genre. Overall, I definitely recommend it, even to the squeamish. It's messy fun for everyone. And make sure you stay until AFTER the credits roll. You'll be glad you did.