Film Review: Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal (dir by Chris Smith)


In Operation Varsity Blues, Matthew Modine plays Rick Singer, the real-life “college admissions consultant” who was one of the many people involved in the 2019 College Admissions scandal.

Singer was the former basketball coach who helped the rich and famous get their children into the right Ivy League schools. As the film shows (and as you probably already know), he did this by faking test scores, faking athletic activities, and often arranging for money to exchange hands. The film not only features Modine and others actors acting out the actual conversations that Singer was taped as having with his wealthy clients, it also features interviews with a few of Singer’s acquaintances and with the various journalists who covered the scandal. It’s a documentary with dramatic recreations.

And that’s fine. Modine does a good enough job portraying Rick Singer, playing him as essentially being a sleazy salesman who knew exactly what to say to the parents who were desperate to get their child into a prestigious university. (The film reveals that Singer would often lie to his clients, brainwashing them into believing that there was no way their children would be able to get into USC or Harvard without his help.) Unfortunately, with his gray hair and, his nervous smile, Matthew Modine as Rick Singer bares an odd but definite resemblance to the great Eric Roberts and, as I watched Operation Varsity Blues, I found myself thinking about how great it would be to see a film in which Eric Roberts did play Rick Singer. (I mean, seriously, Singer just seems like a perfect Eric Roberts role.) That may sound like a petty complaint but it does get at a bigger issue. Operation Varsity Blues is 100 minutes long but, despite its slightly different narrative format, it still doesn’t tell us anything that we couldn’t have learned from all of the other documentaries and dramatic adaptations based on the college admissions scandal. Even with the reenactments and the chance to hear Singer’s own words, Operation Varsity Blues still doesn’t tell us anything new about the scandal or why it happened. If nothing else, Eric Roberts and his neurotic screen presence would have put a new spin on a now-familiar story,

To be honest, the hybrid, docudrama format actually works against the film. On the one hand, you’ve got the real people telling their story in talking head interviews. But every time you start to get into their stories, the film cuts away to a reenactment and the film goes from being a documentary to being a low-budget Matthew Modine film. The film would have worked better if it had chosen to be either a documentary or a drama. By trying to be both, the end result is a movie that often seems disjointed and leaves you still feeling as if you haven’t actually gotten the entire story.

Finally, Lori Loughlin and her husband are featured in the documentary, though only in news footage. At one point, it’s revealed that after their daughter was accepted to USC, her high school guidance counselor called the college to tell them that Olivia Jade was never on her school’s rowing team, regardless of what her application said. Apparently, Lori and her husband got very angry about the counselor doing this and you know what? They had every right to be pissed off. Why is a guidance counselor trying to keep one of his students from getting into a good college? I mean, how was it really any of his business to begin with? That’s something that I would have liked to have seen explored in a bit more detail. Instead, the film just hurries along to another reenactment of Rick Singer explaining how to cheat on the ACT. (I’m still amazed that people spent that much money to do something as easy as cheat on a standardized test. I mean, it’s not that difficult.)

Unfortunately, the entire film is like that. It raises some interesting points but it ultimately leaves you frustrated by its refusal to do anything more than scratch the surface.

Film Review: BMX Bandits (dir by Brian Trenchard-Smith)


Bicyclists!

Oh, don’t even get me started on people who ride bicycles. Don’t get me wrong. I own a bicycle. I like to ride my bicycle occasionally, though only in the park and never in the street. They’re good exercise. They’re good for the environment, I guess. They don’t kill as many people as cars do, I assume. That said, professional bicyclists — and by that, I mean the ones who don’t even own a car — drive me crazy.

Don’t even pretend that you don’t know what I mean. You’re trying to drive to work or the grocery store or maybe you’re just taking a nice drive to clear your head. You’re tapping on the accelerator. You’re going over 60 mile per hour because there aren’t any cops around. Everything’s just fine and then suddenly …. you get stuck behind some jerk on a bicycle. He’s got his helmet on. He’s got his tight little bicycle shorts and his fluorescent shirt. He’s peddling along, all hunched over and with his ass up in the air, like that doesn’t make him look like a total idiot.

And then, you have to slow down. You’re have to be careful that you don’t accidentally run him over. You have to watch his arms because his stupid little bicycle doesn’t have a goddamn turn signal or a brake light. When you reach a red light, he sits there on his bike with one hand on his hips and the other hand holding up his little water bottle, from which he drinks as if he’s spent the past week in a desert. And you’re left to wonder why this guy is even here, riding his bicycle down a busy street that doesn’t even have a bicycle lane. The worst part of it is the smug look of satisfaction on his face as he looks back at your car and thinks, “I may be inconveniencing everyone but at least I’m making a difference.”

Considering my anti-bicyclist feelings, I may not have been the ideal audience for the 1983 Australian film, BMX Bandits. Fortunately, though, the teenager bikers in this film were all extremely fast and very stunt-orientated. These bikers weren’t interested in using their bikes as a symbol of moral superiority. Instead, they were more about using them to jump over shopping carts and to ride across the beaches of Sydney. One of the bikers was played by a 16 year-old Nicole Kidman and she managed to bring at least a hint of reality to even the most absurd pieces of dialogue.

That’s a good thing because BMX Bandits is, even by the standards of a bicycle film from the early 80s, is a thoroughly absurd film. A group of bank robbers lose a box of walkie talkies. Three BMX bike enthusiasts find the box. This leads to a long chase through Sydney, as well as a sort of bizarre counter attack launched by hundreds of teenage BMX bike owners. The bank robbers don’t stand a chance! That said, I’m not really sure why, since the movie opened with them successfully robbing a bank, they couldn’t have just purchased a new box of walkie talkies. Interestingly enough, the police also spend a lot of time listening to walkie talkies, which can only lead me to believe that walkie talkies were a really huge deal back in 1983. This film is fascinated by them, to the extent that a more appropriate title for the film might have been Law & Order: Walkie Talkie Squad.

Anyway, what can you really say about something like BMX Bandits? It’s such a silly film that it’s almost impossible to review because to take it seriously is to miss the point. The villains are buffoons. The plot makes no sense. Nicole Kidman’s good, though you still only really notice her because you know what audiences in 1983 did not know, that she’s future Oscar winner Nicole Kidman. At the same time, the scenery is lovely and there’s an extended scene that takes place in a cemetery that has some nice atmosphere even if it does go on a bit too long. There’s not really a lot to be said about BMX Bandits but at least it won’t slow down traffic.

Artwork of the Day: The Adulterers (by Harold W. McCauley)


by Harold W. McCauley

This “nightstand” book was originally published in 1960. “Andrew Shaw” was a pseudonym for Lawrence Block. This was his second nightstand book. He later went on to become a very successful writer of crime thrillers and detective novels.

As for the cover, I’m sure that we’re looking at that big hat. Is she cheating with Zorro? This cover was done by Harold McCauley.

Music Video of the Day: It Hit Me Like A Hammer by Huey Lewis and the News (1991, directed by Nigel Dick)


Huey Lewis & the News were a band who epitomized the early to mid-80s and their music videos played a large part in MTV’s initial popularity. Unfortunately, by the time 1991 rolled around, the band and its style of music was being overshadowed by the growing popularity of both rap and grunge. It Hit Me Like A Hammer was the band’s final top 40 hit in the United States. One of the cool things about Huey Lewis and the News is that, in contrast to a lot of other bands trying to make the transition from the 80s to the 90s, they didn’t change their sound. Huey didn’t start trying to rap. The band didn’t start wearing flannel and covering the Pixies. Instead, they remained who they were, a rocking and unpretentious bar band who wrote songs for people looking to have a good time.

This video was directed by Nigel Dick, who is one of those music video directors who worked with everyone and who still works with everyone. At last count, he has directed over 500 videos.

Enjoy!