Film

FILM INQUIRY:

Just a quick update to say I am still alive. I’m super busy with university work at the moment and haven’t had the time to make many updates here. I hope to post something new soon, but in the meantime feel free to check out some of the work I’ve been doing over at Film Inquiry!

Here is a Beginner’s Guide to one of my favourite directors, Danny Boyle. I also wrote an essay about the place for screwball comedy in modern cinema, which you can check out here. Lastly I wrote another Beginner’s Guide for the late, great John Hughes, which you can read on this link.

Expect some new updates both here and on Film Inquiry in the very near future. In the meanwhile, here are some trailers for my most anticipated films in the coming months…

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#52FilmsByWomen, Film, Reviews

#52FILMSBYWOMEN – FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH:

After watching Amy Heckerling’s Clueless as part of the #52FilmsByWomen pledge, I decided to revisit her debut, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which is considered a cult classic and launched the careers of many actors including Jennifer Jason Leigh and Sean Penn

Directed: Amy Heckerling

Starring: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Phoebe Cates, Brian Backer, Robert Romanus, Judge Reinhold, Sean Penn, Ray Walston

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source: Youtube

Amy Heckerling is one of a very select group of women who has managed to forge a lasting career in mainstream cinema, and this is no doubt largely due to the strength of her debut. Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a staple of the teen genre, featuring an ensemble of then up and comers who are now some of Hollywood’s most respected players.

The 1982 film, written by Cameron Crowe, is based on his non-fiction book of the same name, which he wrote after going undercover at Clairemont High School in California. The film has only a loose narrative, telling the tales of a number of High School students over the course of a school year.

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source: Born Unicorn

Characters include 15 year old Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who is looking to lose her virginity and taking the advice of her older friend, the more experienced Linda (Phoebe Cates). Mark “Rat” Ratner (Brian Backer) admires Stacy from afar and takes dating advice from his own older friend Damone (Robert Romanus), whilst Stacey’s older brother Brad (Judge Reinhold) navigates a series of part time jobs. The film also follows stoner Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn) as he gets engaged in a battle of wits with history teacher Mr. Hand (Ray Walston).

Sean Penn is hilarious as perpetually stoned Jeff Spicoli and has no doubt inspired every similar character to appear in a film since, including Travis (Breckin Meyer) in Clueless, who is essentially just a more self aware and 1990’s variation of Spicoli. Even his stoner/surfer style has become iconic, with his character being largely responsible for the enduring popularity of Vans slip-on shoes.

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source: Oyster

It is Penn’s performance that remains the most enduring and popular, with stories of how he stayed in character throughout shooting and would only answer to the name Spicoli becoming popular trivia, but the excellent turns from the rest of the cast is not to be ignored.

Jennifer Jason Leigh is a standout as Stacy, communicating the dual sense of braveness and vulnerability of exploring sexuality for the first time, whilst Pheobe Cates is also amusing as the older friend whose every word is lapped up by Stacy in spite of the fact she clearly isn’t all that sure what she is talking about. Each character is relatable in some way, especially Mark, who was based on Andy Rathbone, who has gone on to become the successful author of the For Dummies book series.

Other stars to be to look out for include Nicolas Cage (credited as Nicolas Coppola) and Forest Whitaker in their respective feature film debuts, as well as Eric Stoltz as a stoner buddy of Spicoli’s.

It is a credit to Heckerling’s direction that the film never feels meandering in spite of the loose narrative, and we come out feeling like every character has been on a journey of some sort. The film doesn’t shy away from exploring serious issues such as sexuality and abortion, and it probably has more in common with the raunch-fest Porky’s (1981) than the John Hughes classics of the decade.

The film is so on the nose about these issues in fact that it has sometimes drawn criticisms for sexism – Roger Ebert gave the film one star in his review and described it as:

“a failure of taste, tone and nerve – the waste of a good cast on erratic, offensive material that hasn’t been thought through, or maybe even thought about.” 

Ebert also denounces the film as sexist and bordering on sexploitation, and it has been debated for years whether or not Heckerling’s film is sexist. There is a plenty to suggest that it may be – particularly the famous swimming pool scene starring Cates – but the film is actually a very rare example of sexuality as portrayed largely from the female perspective.

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source: Youtube

This is clear at many points throughout the narrative, but is most obvious through the character of Stacy. When she gets pregnant she decides to have an abortion and Heckerling explores this in a wholly realistic way. There is no judgement, or even any debate, it is merely shown and the film ends in a way that suggests that Stacy learnt something and moved on, as is the case with many teenagers.

In her book It’s A Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Enviroments, Amanda Marcotte argues that the film is a very positive and female orientated depiction of the High School experience, saying it:

“…doesn’t romanticise high school from the point of view of a middle-aged man, but shows it as it is in all it’s cringworthy, immature nonglory.” 

In spite of the John Hughes dig, Marcotte does raise an interesting point about the film – whilst we see Stacy explore her sexuality, her encounters are far from the overblown and unrealistic depictions of sex usually put to the screen, and are much more reflective of real life experiences as had by many.

The film, like any great teen movie, also boasts a fantastic soundtrack which serves as proof that a pop music can have just as much impact as a traditional film score. From the opening track We Got the Beat by The GoGo’s it is clear that Heckerling has a talent for encapsulating contemporary youth culture, and the soundtrack features an array of brilliant tracks from the likes of The Eagles and Stevie Nicks.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a time capsule to the 1980’s, infused with a little more grit than the sugary sweetness of John Hughes, but with enough brains to still be feel-good, it inspired generations and films such as Dazed and Confused (1993) and many more would not exist without it.

What do you think of Fast Times at Ridgemont High? Which films are you watching as part of #52FilmsByWomen? Share your views in the comments section! 

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Film, List

TOP 5 80’S TEEN MOVIES:

The top five teen movies of the 1980’s (AKA films made by John Hughes) 

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The 1980’s looked like a great time to be alive – despite only being born in the middle of the 90’s, I have always had a soft spot for the decade that came before, and this is largely down to the fact that 1980’s films are THE BEST.

Seriously, films made in the 1980’s are generally amazing, unique and definitely not the sort of thing that would get made today. Even though they were made before I was even born, I find characters in these movies to be much more relatable than most of what I see on screen today (spending my early teens wishing to be Hilary Duff did not make me Hilary Duff). One of the crown jewels of the film industry in this era was the teen movie genre, which had its very own brat pack and was helmed by the likes of John Hughes (how a grown man had such a keen insight into the inner psych of teens is a mystery).  This was a decade that graced the world with everything from Wall Street (1987) to Ghostbusters (1984), but I maintain that teen movies from the 1980’s cannot be beaten. This is not a takedown of Mean Girls (2004) or any other post-80’s teen movie, but instead a testament to the era where Molly Ringwald knew what was up.

Trying to compile just five of the best teen movies from the 1980’s proved to be a hugely difficult task, but here it is for you to enjoy – let me know if you agree in the comments section!

Honourable mention….

Heathers (1988)

Director: Michael Lehmann

Starring: Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannon Doherty, Lisanne Falke, Kim Walker

heathers01_zps9cb90f94I’m just putting this out there – Heathers is one of my favourite movies of all time. The jet black satire that put Winona Ryder on the map is, in my opinion, one of the most hilarious and incredibly ahead of it’s time films to emerge from the 1980’s, and the likes of Jawbreaker (1999) and Mean Girls outright wouldn’t exist without it. The film tells the story of Veronica (Winona Ryder), a teenager who is part of the school’s most popular clique, populated by three girls named Heather (Shannon Doherty, Lisanne Falke and Kim Walker – plastics eat your heart out). Resenting the high school jungle, Veronica becomes involved with the mysterious new guy J.D (Christian Slater channeling a young Jack Nicholson, it’s all in the eyebrows), who has some pretty interesting ideas on how to deal with high school. The film is satire at its very best, with spectacular dialogue (“Dear diary, my teen angst bullshit now has a body count”) and truly fantastic central performances, Heathers is not a film for the easily offended, but it perfectly sums up some of the more ridiculous aspects of high school culture in a way that still feels relevant today. The only reason it didn’t make the official top five is because it is a satirical depiction of pretty much all the teen movies that were made in the 1980’s, and should thus be judged as a thoroughly different (but equally excellent) beast.

5. Weird Science (1985)

Director: John Hughes

Starring: Anthony Michael Hall, Ilan Mitchell-Smith, Kelly LeBrock

weird-scienceThere is apparently a remake of Weird Science in the works, and if this is true it should be stopped immediately because it is one of those concepts that worked in the 1980’s but is actually sort of weird and outdated and there should be no attempts to redo it. Got it, Universal? A lot of films from the 1980’s have this air of nostalgia and innocence around them that allow them to pull of some pretty creepy concepts (Back to the Future, anyone?), and Weird Science falls into that category. The film tells the story of Gary (Anthony Michael Hall) and Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith), two nerds who create the perfect woman (Kelly LeBrock) on a computer. It really shouldn’t work, but with Hughes writing and direction and Hall and Mitchell-Smith’s adorable performances it does. It’s hardly going to change your life, but Weird Science is a cult classic that makes perfect Friday night Netflix viewing – watch out for an extremely baby faced Robert Downey Jnr. playing bully Ian.

4. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

Director: John Hughes

Starring: Matthew Broderick, Mia Sara, Alan Ruck, Jennifer Grey

36_ferris_buellers_day_offWhere to begin really – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is pretty much the embodiment of everything that is so great about 1980’s films – and mainly it’s a whole lot of fun. Chicago teen Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) decides that he fancies a day off school and constructs an increasingly elaborate scheme to remain undetected, getting his girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) and best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck) along for the ride. They spend the day getting up to all sorts of shenanigans, from visiting art galleries and restaurants to being part of a parade, all whilst Ferris’ sister (Jennifer Grey) and Student Dean (Jeffery Jones) try to catch him out. What makes the film so great is that it explores some interesting themes whilst still being a fun caper – Ferris may be the fourth wall breaking character of the title, but the film is really about the emotional journey of Cameron. Let’s face it – more people (meaning me) identify with Cameron than Ferris, and his realisation that he has to learn to stand up for himself in order to be happy is something that a lot of teens have to deal with, so it’s nice that John Hughes was around to give a helping hand and prove that strong messages can come in fun packages.

3. The Breakfast Club (1985)

Director: John Hughes

Starring: Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Emelio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Allison Sheedy

bender_fist“…In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions: a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.” Back in 1985 John Hughes made his masterpiece with The Breakfast Club, a film that so perfectly embodies everything he was about as a maker of teen movies and a film that anyone can identify with anyone – and thus, the brat pack was born. Five teenagers are stuck together in the school library for an all-day Saturday detention. All from their own cliques, it seems like they have nothing in common, yet over the space of the day they transcend their respective stereotypes to become THE BREAKFAST CLUB, all while Simple Minds play in the background – it really doesn’t get much more 1980’s than that. Parodied so often, it can be easy to forget how great The Breakfast Club is (imitation is the sincerest form of flattery after all), and no matter whether you consider yourself to be the athlete (not so much) or the basket case (getting warmer), you’ll find something to love in Hughes’ film.

2. Pretty in Pink (1986)

Director: Howard Deutch

Starring: Molly Ringwald, Jon Cryer, Andrew McCarthy

Pretty-in-Pink-pretty-in-pink-21215372-500-281I know what you’re thinking, a film on this list NOT made by John Hughes?! But panic not, he wrote Pretty in Pink, so of course his stamp is all over it (thank god). Andie (Molly Ringwald) is a working class girl who has a crush on rich boy Blane (Andrew McCarthy, of course you’re rich when you’re called Blane). Throw into the mix her adoring best friend Duckie (Jon Cryer) and Blane’s dickhead friends Benny (Kate Vernon) and Steff (James Spader), along with Andie’s unemployed father (Harry Dean Stanton) and boss/mother figure Iona (Annie Potts) and you have a recipe for some class-A high school d-r-a-m-a. It’s another Hughes classic, and Ringwald is as good a role model as there is with her refusal to change for anyone – us gals can take a lot away from her performance, and even if you don’t agree with the ending (it was actually changed due to the original ending – which arguably makes a lot more sense – didn’t go down well with test audiences) chances are you’ll still go all gooey when Andie gets the guy.

1. St. Elmo’s Fire (1985)

Director: Joel Schumacher (pre-ruining everyone’s lives with Batman and Robin in the 1990s)

Starring: Andrew McCarthy, Emelio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Judd Nelson, Allison Sheedy, Demi Moore, Mare Winningham

St. Elmo's Fire characters, Kevin and JulesHere it is – my number one 1980’s teen movie. Many may disagree, but I love St Elmo’s Fire for a multitude of reasons, and an undying affection for young Rob Lowe is only one of them (equally strong affection for Andrew McCarthy makes two). Telling the story of seven college graduates navigating that tricky period between graduation and starting your real life, the film gets a lot of stick. I feel this is partly due to the fact that after the travesty that was Batman and Robin (1997), Joel Schumacher and his work have a very dark cloud over them. The thing is, much like all 1980’s teen movies, I don’t think its a film that needs to be taken all that seriously. Sure, Demi Moore totally overreacts about losing her job – but as someone who is on the cusp of entering her early twenties I feel pretty sure that my self-absorbed self would probably have a similar reaction – it’s called being young. It’s a coming of age tale that is just so quintessentially 80’s that to hate it isn’t something I can fathom – granted Emelio Estevez’s storyline is a tad creepy and Andie MacDowell is nothing short of awful, but who says it had to be perfect – there are faults with all of the films on this list, but that doesn’t stop me loving and steadfastly defending each and every one.

 

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