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Entries in High School Movies (31)

Wednesday
Nov052014

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...

THREE SCREENINGS

THE WAY HE LOOKS 
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+

BIG HERO 6
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


MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT
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

Tuesday
Sep092014

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...]

Click to read more ...

Monday
Sep082014

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? 

Tuesday
Sep022014

Summer (lovin') happened so fast

Hello all, Manuel here wishing you all a great “back to school!” week with some choice words from your favorite singing and dancing adults-playing-teens.

I've had the best summer of my life and now I have to go away. It isn't fair."

To all the Sandys out there who have spent their summer nights bowling in the arcade, making out under docks, and getting friendly in the sand, it must surely seem unfair that it’s that time of year again when we bid goodbye to fun summer flings and have instead to prep ourselves for another school year. We could spend the next couple of weeks moping about the end of summer, and wishing we didn't have to spend the last beautiful days of the year indoors pining away, but, like Grease itself, we should see this coming back to school moment as an opportunity to engage in a high-energy musical number. True, Frankie Valli's rendition of Barry Gibb's "Grease" opens the film (while cartooney versions of our leads get ready for their first day of school) but it is "Summer Nights" which officially kicks off this musical comedy, framing the entire narrative of the film as an attempt to reclaim and repurpose the spirit (and romance!) of those summer nights amidst the dreary day to day of senior year.

“Okay girls, let’s go get ‘em!”

I had a friend in high school who, without a doubt, would always bring up "Summer Nights" on our first day of school ("tell me more! tell me more!" he'd joke, though I rarely had anything as interesting as Sandy to share with him). I never told him this, but thinking back on it, I would have much rather us role-play being the Pink Ladies (rather than dear old "Sandra Dee"!). I mean, in terms of heading back to school, I think Rizzo and the Pink Ladies have the right attitude. Can you really go wrong with sunglasses, pink jackets, gum and a killer strut?

Did you have, like Sandy, an unforgettable summer that you wish would never end? Have you already chosen what fabulous outfit you’ll be wearing when you make your grand return to the classroom this fall? Tell me more, tell me more!

Tuesday
May062014

Hot Docs '14: Beyond Clueless, The Secret Trial 5

[Amir, our Canadian correspondent, is reporting on The Hot Docs Film Festival which wrapped Sunday. Reviews will continue this week.] 

In the history of cinema, there are few genres that receive as little acclaim or critical analysis as the high school film does. British critic Charlie Lyne's (of Ultra Culture blog fame) visual essay is therefore a treasure for enthusiasts of recent film history. In Beyond Clueless, he examines teenage characters in a wide variety of films produced between 1996 and 2004. Little of the titular film is shown, though its influence over the films that came after it looms large. From The Craft to Mean Girls, from The Faculty to Rules of Attraction, via Spider-man, Final Destination and everything in between, the high school student is analyzed through the tumultuous process of entering that period of adolescence and exiting it unscathed and transformed.

Beyond Clueless itself takes on the narrative arc of a teen movie. Divided in five chapters that are designed to embody the high school experience, it begins with ‘Fitting In’ and ends with ‘Moving On.’ No new material is added to the clips taken from the films discussed, but crucially, the lengthy essay is narrated by Fairuza Balk, star of The Craft, whose somber but familiar voice instills the film a teen personality of its own. [More...]

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Apr302014

"I know what you're thinking: Home schooled kids are freaks!"

[Our Mean Girls week concludes with a really fresh angle I think you'll love. Here's Tim on being a home schooled freak. - Nathaniel R]

Tim here. I can't tell you how many times I, a perpetually overweight, underemployed, thirtysomething male, have looked at Lindsay Lohan and thought to myself gosh, she's just like me! But I can tell you the time it struck closest to home was when I first peered into Mean Girls a decade ago. Look at any appreciation, vintage or current, like the ones we have going for our Mean Girls Week, and you're going to encounter the sentiment that the film understands deep and universal truths about the public high school experience, but the kinship I feel with Lohan's Cady Heron is of an entirely different sort - the exact opposite, in fact.

Mean Girls, after all, isn't just a movie about any old bright teenager entering a new school and being partially devoured by the social order she finds there: it's about a bright teenager who has spent her life to that point being home schooled, thrust for the first time into a world full of people her own age. And like Cady, I spent my share of time being home schooled, though it wasn't because my parents were awesome zoologists who took me with them for a decade-plus research trip in Africa (it wasn't for fringe religious reasons either, I want to make that very clear). And unlike Cady, I never did get to experience the magical horror show of American high school. But I did get to have that same brutal, abrupt shift from being essentially solitary, driven only by my own sense of discipline, to be thrown into a terrifying world of people and schedules when college and dorms came upon me. [More...]

Click to read more ...

Monday
Apr282014

Podcast: Mean Girls Commentary, Two Parts

You own a copy of Mean Girls (2004), right?

Pull it off the shelf, rent it or Netflix Instant it (it expires May 1st!) so you can watch as you listen to this podcast. In this very special 10th anniversary celebration, Nathaniel R (The Film Experience) and Joe Reid (The Wire) return to North Shore High to watch Mean Girls together and provide you with our very own DVD commentary track. If you don't watch while you listen we'll sound like mad men giggling out of context or merely like we're too gay to function.

We discuss everything: performance, writing, costumes, set design, scoring and even casting that almost was -- it would have been such a different film. We also talk the reliable time capsule worthiness of the high school comedy film genre and tangents occur. Due to file sizes and the 97 minutes of running time, I can't embed both parts here in the post but you can download the 2 part conversation on iTunes. Or, if you don't have iTunes, both parts are here on the podcast upload page

Joe and I would really love you to continue the conversation in the comments. (Katey and Nick couldn't attend. But they love Ladysmith Black Mambazo!)

Articles referenced in The Podcast
Mean Girls Cast power rankings
Hit Me With Your Best Shot 
'let me tell you something about Lindsay Lohan' 
IndieWire: Daniel Franzese's coming out letter 
The Map of North Shore High's Cafeteria