Back to School #43: River’s Edge (dir by Tim Hunter)


In his film guide, Heavy Metal Movies, Mike McPadden describes the disturbing 1987 teen crime drama River’s Edge as being “666 Candles“.  It’s a perfect description because River’s Edge appears to not only be taking place in a different socio-economic setting than Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club but perhaps on a different planet as well.

River’s Edge opens with a close-up of a dead and naked teenage girl lying on the edge of a dirty, polluted river and it gets darker from there.  The dead girl was the girlfriend of the hulking John Tollet (Daniel Roebuck, playing a character who is miles away from his role in Cavegirl).  As John explains to his friends, he strangled her for no particular reason.  His friends, meanwhile, respond with detachment.  Their unofficial leader, the hyperactive Layne (Crispin Glover), insists that since nothing can be done about the dead girl, their number one concern now has to be to keep John from getting caught.  While Layne arranges for John to hide out with a one-legged drug dealer named Feck (Dennis Hopper), two of John’s friends, Matt and Clarissa (played by Keanu Reeves and Ione Skye), consider whether or not they should go to the police.  Oddly enough, John really doesn’t seem to care one way or the other.

Seriously, River’s Edge is one dark film.  If it were made today, River’s Edge would probably be directed by someone like Larry Clark and, in many ways, it feels like a distant cousin to Clark’s Bully.  The teenagers in River’s Edge live in a world with little-to-no adult supervision.  Matt’s mom is more concerned with whether or not Matt has been stealing her weed than with the fact that Matt might be covering up a murder.  The local high school teacher is a former hippie who won’t shut up about how much better his generation was compared to every other generation.  In fact, the only adult with any sort of moral code is Feck and he’s usually too busy dancing with a sex doll to really be of much help.  It’s a world where no one has been raised to value their own lives so why should they care about a dead girl laying out on the banks of the river?

The film features good performances from Keanu Reeves, Ione Skye, and Daniel Roebuck but really, the entire movie is stolen by Crispin Glover and Dennis Hopper.  In the role of Layne, Glover is a manic wonder, speaking quickly and gesturing even when he isn’t making a point.  When Layne first shows up, he seems like he’s just overly loyal to his friend John but, as the film progresses, it becomes more apparent that he’s less concerned about protecting John and more interested in ordering other people to do it.  For Layne, protecting John is ultimately about maintaining power over Matt, Clarissa, and the rest of their friends.

As for Dennis Hopper — well, this is one of those films that you should show to anyone who says that Hopper wasn’t a great actor.  The role of a one-legged drug dealer who lives with a sex doll sound like exactly the type of role that would lead Hopper to going totally over-the-top.  Instead, Hopper gave a surprisingly subtle and intelligent performance and, as a result, he provided this film with the moral center that it very much needs.

Glover and Hopper

 

Back to School #42: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (dir by John Hughes)


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Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. — Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

While I was rewatching the 1986 John Hughes comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off for this review, I found myself thinking about all of the days (or, to be more precise about it, half-days) that I took off back when I was in high school.  It wasn’t that I didn’t like school.  Though I certainly didn’t truly appreciate it at the time, I actually had a pretty good time in high school.  I had an interesting and diverse group of friends.  I had lots of drama and lots of comedy.  I got good grades as long as it wasn’t a Math class.  (Drama, History, and English were always my best subjects.)  My teachers liked me.  But, at the same time, I couldn’t help but resent being required to go to school.  I do not like being told that I have to do something.

So, I would skip on occasion.  For some reason, it always seemed like my favorite classes were early in the day.  So, I’d go to school, enjoy myself up until lunch, and then me and a few friends would casually walk out of the building and we would be free!  There was a Target just a few blocks down the street from our high school and sometimes we’d go down there and spend a few hours shoplifting makeup.  Eventually, we did get caught by a big scary security guy who threatened to call our parents, made us return everything that we had hidden in our purses and bras, and then told us that we were never to step foot in that Target ever again.  And you know what?  In all the years since, I have yet to step back inside of that Target.

Interestingly enough, with all of the times that we skipped school, the worst thing that ever happened to me or any of my friends is that we got banned from Target.  We all still graduated, most of us still went to college, and, as far as I know, none of us have ever been arrested for a major crime.  None of us ever regretted missing any of the classes that we skipped.  For all the talk of how skipping school was the same thing as throwing away your future, it really was not that big of a deal.

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I think that’s one reason why, despite being nearly 30 years ago, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a film that continues to speak to audiences.  It’s a film that celebrates the fact that sometimes, you just have to take a day off and embrace life.  Technically, Ferris, Cameron (Alan Ruck), and Sloane (Mia Sara) may be breaking the law by skipping school and you could even argue that they’ve stolen Cameron’s dad’s car.

But, who cares?

You know who probably had perfect attendance in high school?  Principal Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) and seriously, who wants to grow up to be like that douchebag?

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Whenever I do watch Ferris Bueller (and I’ve seen it more times than I can remember because seriously, I freaking love this movie!), I always find myself wishing that real-life could be as much fun as the movies.  As much as I may have enjoyed skipping school and shoplifting, it’s nothing compared to everything that Ferris does during his day off!  Ferris goes to a baseball game!  He takes his friends to a fancy restaurant!  He goes to an art museum!  (And, much like Sloane, my heart swoons at this point because I would have loved to have known a guy who would skip school so he could specifically go to the museum.)  Perhaps most importantly, he encourages his best friend Cameron to actually have a good time and enjoy himself.

Ferris, Sloane, and Cameron

In Susannah Gora’s book You Couldn’t Ignore Me If You Tried, an entire chapter is devoted to the making of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and, to be honest, it’s actually makes for rather melancholy reading.  Ferris Bueller was the last teen film that John Hughes directed and the book suggests that a lot of this was due to the fact that Hughes didn’t have as good a time making the film as audiences would later have watching it.  In the book, Mia Sara speculates that Hughes never bonded with the cast of Ferris Bueller in the same way that he did with the casts of Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club.

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And indeed, it’s hard to imagine either Ferris Bueller or Matthew Broderick popping up in either one of those two films.  Ferris is far too confident to relate to the angst-driven worlds of Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, or Pretty in Pink.  True, he doesn’t have a car and his sister (Jennifer Grey) resents him but otherwise, Ferris’s life is pretty much care-free.  Not only does he live in a beautiful house but he’s also already come up with a definitive philosophy for how he wants to live his life.  You look at Ferris and you know that he probably grew up to be one of those people who ended up working on Wall Street and nearly bankrupted the country but you don’t care.  He’s too likable.

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His best friend, Cameron, is far more angsty but even his overwhelming depression doesn’t seem like it would be at home in any of Hughes’s other films.  If Cameron was a member of the Breakfast Club, he’d probably just sit in the back of the library and zone out.  Regardless of how much Judd Nelson taunted him, Cameron would stay in his shell.  If Cameron was in Sixteen Candles, it’s doubtful he would have been invited to the party at Jake Ryan’s house in the first place.  His depression is too overwhelming and his angst feels too real for him to safely appear in any film other than this one.  As a character, Cameron could only appear in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off because only Ferris Bueller would be capable getting Cameron to leave his bedroom.  On the one hand, the film may seem like a well-made but standard teen comedy where a lovable rebel defeats a hateful authority figure.  But, with repeat viewings, it becomes obvious that Ferris Bueller is truly about the battle for Cameron’s damaged soul.

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There’s a prominent theory out there that the entire film is supposed to be Cameron’s daydream and that Ferris either doesn’t exist or he’s just a popular student who Cameron has fantasized to be his best friend.  I can understand the theory because Cameron really is the heart of the movie.  At the same time, I hope it’s not true because, if this is all a fantasy, then that means that Sloane never said, “He’s going to marry me,” while running back home.  And that would be heart-breaking because I love that moment!

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Ferris Bueller’s Day Off may have John Hughes final teen film as a director (he would go on to write and produce Some Kind of Wonderful) but at least he went out on a true high note.

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Trailer: Fury (International)


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I must admit that World War II films are a favorite of mine. Even bad ones I tend to enjoy. Whether it’s alternate fantasy fares like Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds or something that combines historical accuracy with dramatic license like Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, the World War II genre always manage to hit straight and true to my film wheelhouse.

This October there looks to be another World War II film that seems almost tailor-fit for me. I’m talking about David Ayer’s follow-up to his underappreciated film End of Watch. This follow-up is Fury and tells the story of an American tank crew in the waning days of World War II in Europe. Just from the two trailer released I already know that I’m seeing this. Ayer looks to be exploring the bond of a tank crew that has seen war from the deserts of Africa and now to the urban and forested landscapes of Germany.

The film is already getting major buzz as a major contender for the upcoming awards season and I, for one, hope that it’s a well-deserved buzz. Even with Shia LaBeouf being part of the cast is not dampening my excitement for this film. Even if it doesn’t live up to the hype I know that I’ll probably still end up enjoying it.

This trailer looks to be selling the utter brutality and carnage of World War II’s final days in Europe when German forces were literally fighting for their homeland and that makes for a desperate enemy (who still had weapons and soldiers that were still hands down better than what the Allies had one-on-one).

On a side note, I like the fact that the tracers in the film actually look like tracers which means they look like freakin’ laser blasts. That’s how tracers behave.

Fury is set to hit theaters on October 17, 2014 in the United States and October 22, 2014 internationally.