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Entries in High School Movies (35)


TIFF: Bullied Girls and Violent Boys in Sweden

TIFF is such a large beast of a film festival — hundreds of films, dozens of big screens — that everyone can make their own festival within it. Thus it is that I, Nathaniel, of Danish descent (way back) and rudimentary Norwegian language skills (from also way back but at least in my lifetime), invariably program my own Scandinavian mini-fest each year while I'm here. This year I'm seeing five Nordic films so here are quick takes on the three Swedish entries, which all happen to be about teenagers. And since we were just discussing great High School Films, the perfect topic for September, let's continue that thread...

The Hater and the Hated (well, he *did* kill someone)

Report Card: In this super tense drama, John (Ulrick Munther), a convicted murderer, returns home and goes right back to high school with his former classmates -- who are also the former classmates of his victim. The students and even his own family are not super jazzed about his return. This directorial feature debut from writer/director Magnus Von Horn is sensitively shot and tough-minded but its best assett is its slow burn patience (without testing the audience's). It builds and builds towards its inevitable bummer conclusion while trying to get inside the impenetrable head of its young protagonist. It doesn't really stick the landing because... well, what is actually the point of all this depressing shit? Still, the 32 year-old director's work is confident enough that I'd line right up to see a second feature. B

Extra Credit: That double meaning title is smart since all of what's "here" for the town and its characters is entirely predicated on the death that came before. 

Would you want to go to school here? On the bright side it's very liberal -- even former murderers are welcome because  "everyone is entitled to an education". There's no dress code and the lockers are in cute island format. On the other hand it's hickville central, the boys are violent, the girls are bored, and they let former murderers go here. The well meaning but nervous principal/teachers are absolutely flummoxed about how to handle this PTSD pressure cooker that was once a normal school. Can you blame them? 

Report Card: In this drama with supernatural touches, three much bullied teenage besties form a coven of sorts (without calling it that) and end up raising a strange and unusual plant (think Audrey II without the songs or sentience --actually never mind) that transforms their lives. When they drink from the plant's beans these outcast girls are suddenly transformed into boys. The first transformation is the movie's clear highlight but alas, this tale gets bogged in unsteady characterizations and the difficulty of balancing four different topics/causes: trans awareness character arc, closeted gay love, gender inequities, school bullying. Strong on concept but very unsteady in the execution. B-/C+

Extra Credit: You will absolutely marvel at the casting. Somehow they found teenage boys that look exactly like the female leads if they happened to suddenly be transformed into boys. And all six of them are likeable actors. It's the best "same person. different sex" casting of all time after Tilda Swinton and Tilda Swinton in Orlando

Would you want to go to school here? Well their well funded high school has great grounds and is big enough that even if you're unpopular you can have your little tight knit circle to hang with. But the bullying shit is out of control, and and the gym teacher actively sucks, basically telling the girls to grow a pair when they're distressed at the escalating torments.

Report Card: This strange film is a bifurcated affair. One half is an hypnotic stop-motion family history (or tall tales) of twin sister refugees who took much different paths in the world, one becoming a caregiver shut out, the other a wild bohemian prostitute. The other half is the modern story of their shared young granddaughter raised in total reclusiveness by her religious father who is also a shut in. The strawberry blonde is so catatonic and pale she makes Sissy Spacek's oddball young 70s waifs seem positively extroverted and suntanned. She barely seems to exist outside of her head (i.e. the animated portion). The problem here is the balance since one half is entrancing and the other is painfully repetitive and obsessed with its own hopelessness. Animated half: B+ The Other half: C-

Extra Credit: I have a great friend who always audibly groans when the title of a movie gets worked in to the dialogue (I personally love it, though, in part from the reaction it provokes in him). Anxiously awaited the moment, did I. But the awesome title only shows up in visual form during the end credits. Worth the wait.

Would you want to go to school here: Insert that Mean Girls joke about home-schooled religious nutjobs. So, emphatically NO. Plus the teacher is your father and his idea of detention and lunch plan are shudder-worthy cruel.



HBO’s LGBT History: Elephant (2003)

Manuel is working his way through all the LGBT-themed HBO productions...

Last week we praised Tom Wilkinson and Jessica “Patron Saint of Hand Acting” Lange in the 2003 trans film, Normal, which feels oddly timely what with I Am Cait, and Transparent covering similar territory a dozen years later. This week we look at the Diane Keaton (!) produced film, Elephant, Gus Van Sant’s fictional take on the Columbine High School massacre.

Using mostly non-professional actors and featuring dizzying long-takes to make you feel the passing of time leading up to the horrific events at a high school in Portland, the film is not immediately or easily catalogued as an “LGBT” film, but it makes for a fascinating entry into our long-running project, given both its director and its oblique treatment of homosexuality. [More...]

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CAST THIS: Clueless, The Musical

Manuel here still recovering for a wonderful Pride weekend which I'm greedily extending for two more days with Bette Midler tonight and Fun Home tomorrow. Needless to say, movies and musicals, and movie musicals are on my mind. Thankfully, Amy Heckerling is here to tide me over, stoking Clueless fandom by letting us know she's finished writing the book for a stage musical adaptation of her 1995 film (though dampening the excitement a bit by confessing it's a jukebox musical to be directed by ??, of Rock of Ages fame). And so, since she acknowledged casting would be a big hurdle before we see "As if!" being uttered on stage, I thought we could help her out brainstorming names for the central three performances.


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Sundance: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Michael C here with some thoughts on the newly minted Sundance award winner

Trying to pull off the tone of the disease movie is a tricky proposition. Not only is there the risk of crossing into a bullying sappiness that all but demands the viewer fill a quota of tear-filled buckets, there is also the opposite risk, where the film's insistence that it doesn't want your tears becomes its own kind of pandering, a persistent nudging that we should be moved by the characters' bravery. 

The most impressive thing about Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is how well it walks that line. It isn't afraid of tears, but it makes the journey to the emotional climax count as much as the destination, building towards subtler, wiser epiphanies than the "life can be painful" for which a lesser film would settle. [More...]

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The Way Big Hero Looks in the Moonlight

As you read this I am en route to L.A. to join Anne Marie & Margaret at the AFI this week so expect coverage of A Most Violent Year and The Gambler premieres, a sneak peek at Selma, a Sophia Loren tribute, and more. But before that all start, and as I fly over some of you, brief thoughts on...


Opens November 7th in limited release
Glenn has already smiled upon this Brazilian coming-of-age film in our ongoing Oscar foreign film race coverage but I wanted to offer my own thumbs way up, too. Like all niche audiences, LGBT people are sometimes too forgiving of bad movies so long as they meet their particular niche needs. But you can love The Way He Looks without any of the guilt that sometimes accompanies pleasure because it's very good.

This affecting high school drama is a love triangle of sorts that plays, smartly, more like a friendship triangle... since all three of its leads are still feeling their way toward their own futures, figuring themselves out. That's particularly true of Leonardo, who is blind and painfully aware that that limits his options. He still dreams of moving out of his parents house and really wants to do a foreign exchange program. His two best friends are Gabriel, a new boy in town who immediately puts him at ease, since he's unphased though sometimes a bit confused about the blindness, and Giovana his best girlfriend since childhood who walks him home every day from school and is so protective that she's become entirely codependent. Giovana resents Gabriel's growing place in Leo's life and nobody ever understands quite what anybody else if feeling. They're all immediately bruised by each other but still walking tightly arm in arm which makes for a hugely sympathetic totally relatable tale of first loves, young friendships and heartbreaks. It's endearing and, like Big Hero 6 (discussed next) it admires the good natures of its characters and their capacity for kindness and love. I don't mind sounding Pollyanna about this: I love seeing basically decent loving people dramatized on film.  That seems to be out of fashion in film and television characters so it's a special treat now when you see it, like a unicorn. B+

Opens November 7th
Daring the long long shadow of The Incredibles, one of the best animated films and one of the best superhero films of all time, this initially very charming movie is about a genius robotics nerd named Hiro (voiced by Ryan Potter) whose older supremely good-natured brother Tadashi (voiced by Daniel Henney), also a tech wizard, convinces him to develop his skills at college instead of wasting them on robot fights. Take that Real Steel! Tadashi's best invention is that white inflatable marshmallow like A.I. you've seen in the trailers named Baymax. A fateful series of events, which I won't spoil though I'm betting the trailers I haven't watched already did, changes everything and suddenly Hiro is furiously reconfiguring Baymax with armor and jetpacks and taking him far from his original purpose as an inhome nurse. Hiro teams up with his new college friends (hence the plurality of the title) to fight off a supervillain in a kabuki mask. The second half of the movie is quite a deflation, sadly. You can feel the pandering for all demographics and senses of humor and like so many visual effects movies the climax is just a mess of OVERLONG NOISY ACTION SETPIECE without much character weight, steering this movie towards "fun but predictable/disposable action-comedy".

But, you know, the things it does well are awfully hard to shake. And boy does that initial brotherly bond stick in the heart. The movie is decidedly pro education (nice to see in a movie), the animation is beautiful, and it's nothing short of wonderful to see a blockbuster family movie led, unambiguously, by people of color. They even used Asian actors for the voices. Well done.  B

Coming to DVD/BluRay in December
I had remembered this getting relatively mild reviews, inspiring neither loving nor loathing, so it was a surprise to discover a quite emphatically bad movie dully staring back at me. I didn't buy one single moment of it from Emma Stone's strangely lackluster star turn, to Colin Firth's mannered fussiness to the various relationships and plot "twists". I amend: I didn't buy one single moment of it that didn't involve Eileen Atkins as "Aunt Vanessa" who is the film's sole bright light, totally charming and authentically aunt-like both emotionally involved and appropriately removed from whatever is ailing her incorrigible celebrity nephew's heart and soul. That's really too bad because the core idea of the movie is "fun" if you will and there's a whole slew of good actors standing around with nothing good to play with. What's more the real life magician its riffing on, an Englishman who was globally famous, not as himself but in yellowface as a Chinese illusionist named Wei Ling Soo, is also richly fertile ground for a screenplay. It's easy to imagine a pretty great movie emerging from that historical figure and obviously several pretty great movies have emerged in the romantic comedy genre by pitting competing agendas against each other in the form of a man and a woman for whom falling in love is a gigantic inconvenience. But it doesn't remotely work, the romance especially (Firth & Stone have zero chemistry) and the smothering atmosphere is one of laziness... like no one is trying at all (particularly Stone & Allen) or like they're trying too hard (Colin Firth, Hamish Linklater) sensing the inconsequential piffle around them or like they're standing around wishing someone would ask them to try at all (Marcia Gay Harden). D


Learning the Power of Knowledge from "Pleasantville"

Back to school week continues with Abstew on Pleasantville...

Let's face it, sometimes school can be a real drag. When you're not trying to find your place among the social circles (which is just as much work as any assignment a teacher could give), there's the constant pressure of doing well academically so that you can go to a good college so that you won't waste your life! (Nope, no pressure at all...) When David (a pre-Spider-Man Tobey Maguire) isn't having imaginary conversations with pretty girls that are out of his league, he has to sit through bleak lectures that are so depressing in their statistics that it kinda makes you just wanna give-up:

For those of you going on to college next year, the chance of finding a good job will actually decrease by the time you graduate. The available number of entry level jobs will drop 31% over the next 4 years. Median income for those jobs will go down as well. Obviously, my friends, it's a competitive world. And good grades are your only ticket through. In fact by the year 2000...

...Contracting HIV from a non-monogamous lifestyle will climb to 1 in 150. The odds of dying in an auto accident are only 1 in 2,500. Now this marks a drastic increase...

...14 years ago when ozone depletion was just at 10% the current level. By the time you are 30 years old, the average global temperature will have risen 2.5 degrees. Causing such catastrophic consequences as typhoons, floods, widespread drought, and famine. Okay...who can tell me what "famine" is?

Yikes. No wonder David seeks out the simpler times captured in the 1950's sitcom world of his favorite show "Pleasantville". [more...]

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Dress for the part, Clueless-style

Continuing our Back to School week...

Hey all, Manuel here, reminding you that when it comes to prepping for back to school fashion, Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) has had an app for that, even before Apple ruled product placement in Hollywood.

The year is 1995 and I remember watching Cher open Clueless by telling me that she actually has a “way normal life for a teenager.” She gets up, she brushes her teeth and she picks out her school clothes. So far so good. Except then we get a shot of her touchscreen (!) computer where she has her entire closet digitized (!). Way normal? As if!

This was mind-boggling to me. Not only because my “pick out school clothes in the morning” routine was restricted to making sure my uniform was nicely ironed (yes, I always looked on with envy to these American high school movies where kids were allowed to wear whatever they liked, never bothering with ties or blazers as I did), but because it seemed like a scene more at home in the Jetsons than in a teenage remake of a Jane Austen novel. This little scene, meant to index Cher’s wealth and fashion sense, works also as a wonderfully prescient scene about our digitized and app-ready world. (So much so that in 2014, Iggy Azalea's take on Cher's closet organizer looks quite at home in a tablet, while the world has finally created an app rivals Cher’s own! #ShareYourCher)

Needless to say, I could have used Cher’s fashion software. By the time I was a college freshman I barely had any idea how laborious choosing a collegiate-ready outfit could be with no school-approved shirts and grey pants to choose from. Last thing I wanted to be was a “fashion victim” let alone “ensembly challenged.” For if there’s something to be learnt about the fashion in Clueless is that it isn’t merely a cosmetic addition to one’s personality, but it can function as a confidence booster. It’s not the clothes that make the woman, of course, but a yellow plaid ensemble can go a long way.

Cher's outfits are truly things of late 90s beauty, it's almost hard to pick a favorite, but I've always loved that first ensemble; which one of hers do you love the most? Do you have a first day of school ensemble you still remember fondly? Or one you don't quite understand what you were thinking when you wore it?