A Movie A Day #150: Back to School (1986, directed by Alan Metter)


Thornton Melon (Rodney Dangerfield) started with nothing but through a combination of hard work and chutzpah, he started a chain of “Tall and Fat” clothing stores and made a fortune.  Everyone has seen his commercials, the one where he asks his potential customers, “Do you look at the menu and say, ‘Okay?'”  He has a new trophy wife named Vanessa (Adrienne Barbeau) and a chauffeur named Lou (Burt Young).  Thornton never even graduated from high school but he gets respect.

However, his son, Jason (Keith Gordon), doesn’t get no respect.  No respect at all.  Jason is a student at a pricey university, where he is bullied by Chas Osborne (William Zabka) and can’t get a date to save his life.  Jason’s only friend is campus weirdo Derek Lutz (Robert Downey, Jr.).  When Thornton sees that his son isn’t having any fun, he decides to go back to school!

Back to School is a predictable but good-natured comedy.  It is like almost every other 80s college comedy except, this time, it’s a 65 year-old man throwing raging parties and making the frat boys look stupid instead of Robert Carradine or Curtis Armstrong.  On the stand-up stage, Dangerfield always played the (sometimes) lovable loser but in the movies, Dangerfield was always a winner.  In both Caddyshack and Back to School, Dangerfield played a self-made man who forced his way into high society and showed up all of the snobs.  While Back to School is no Caddyshack, it does feature Rodney at his best.

Rodney may be the funniest thing about Back to School but a close second is Sam Kinison, who owed much of his early success to Rodney Dangerfield’s support.  Kinison plays a history professor, who has some very strongly held views about the Vietnam War and who punctuates his points with a primal screen.

Also, keep an eye out Kurt Vonnegut, playing himself.  Rodney hires him to write a paper about Kurt Vonnegut for one of his classes.  The paper gets an F because Rodney’s literature professor (Sally Kellerman) can tell that not only did Rodney not write it but whoever did knows absolutely nothing about the work of Kurt Vonnegut.

So it goes.

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Back to School Part II #56: Everybody Wants Some!! (dir by Richard Linklater)


(For the past three weeks, Lisa Marie has been in the process of reviewing 56 back to school films!  She’s promised the rest of the TSL staff that this project will finally wrap up by the end of today, so that she can devote her time to helping to prepare the site for its annual October horrorthon!  Will she make it or will she fail, lose her administrator privileges, and end up writing listicles for Buzzfeed?  Keep reading the site to find out!)

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Well, here we are!  It’s taken nearly four weeks but we have reached the conclusion of Back to School Part II!  I started this series by taking a look at Teenage Devil Dolls.  Along the way, I’ve reviewed everything from Andy Warhol’s Vinyl, A Clockwork Orange, Animal House, and Can’t Hardly Wait to Hollywood High and Keith.  I’ve even found an excuse to review four different Degrassi films!  I’ve had a lot of fun but, with October approaching, I’m happy to be finishing up this series of reviews so that I can concentrate on the TSL’s annual horrorthon!

So, without further ado, let’s take a look at Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!!

Everbody Wants Some!! generated a small flurry of excitement when it was first released back in March.  Not only was it Linklater’s first narrative film since the critically acclaimed Boyhood but it was also advertised as being a spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused.  Like Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some!! was a period piece that would follow an ensemble of Texas teenagers over the course of one long weekend, the big difference being that Everybody Wants Some!! would take place in 1980 (as opposed to 1976) and it would deal with college freshmen (instead of high school juniors).  There were even a few articles that pointed out that several of the actors in Everybody Wants Some!! physically resembled some of the actors in Dazed and Confused.

(Seriously, Glen Powell looks like he could be Matthew McConaughey’s younger brother.)

The film was well-reviewed by critics, even though few of the reviews were as rapturous as the reviews that greeted previous Linklater films like Boyhood and Before Midnight.  As for the audience reaction … well, Everybody Wants Some!! was not exactly embraced by audiences.  I saw it at the Alamo Drafthouse and the theater was nearly deserted.  (Considering that the Alamo’s audience prides itself on embracing independent film, a near-empty theater for a showing of a Linklater film is not a good sign.)  The few people in the theater seemed to feel that the film went on for too long and that it needed a stronger plot.  That’s a complaint that I’ve heard a lot of people make against Everybody Wants Some!!

It’s not a complaint that I agree with.  Those who complained that Everybody Wants Some!! was essentially plotless obviously haven’t seen many Richard Linklater films.  Though Linklater has made his share of commercial films, his more personal work — like Everybody Wants Some!! — is often plotless.  That’s actually one the keys to Linklater’s aesthetic.  He’s more interested in recreating a specific time and place and observing how different characters react to their environment than he is in telling conventional stories.  A film like Everybody Wants Some!! is less about telling a story with a definite beginning and end and more about capturing a very specific experience.

And, on that level, the film definitely succeeds.  Watching Everybody Wants Some!!, you literally do feel as if you’ve stepped into a time machine and you’ve been transported to the past.  Jake (Blake Jenner), a college freshman who is attending fictional Southeast Texas College on a scholarship, may be the main character but, ultimately, he’s not that important.  More important is seeing how people lived, interacted, and thought in 1980.  Everybody Wants Some!! is a time capsule film.

(Apparently, it’s a bit of an autobiographical film as well.  Cinema snobs like me tend to forget that, before he became a filmmaker, Linklater was a jock who, like Jake, attended college on a baseball scholarship.  As much as we may not want to admit it, not all artistic geniuses spent high school writing angsty poetry about eating disorders.  Some of them played sports.)

Everybody Wants Some!! follows Jake and his fellow baseball players over the course of the weekend before classes begin.  One night, they end up in a redneck bar.  Another night, they end up at a punk club.  They go to a drama department party.  They practice baseball.  They all drink.  Some of them smoke weed.  Some of them get laid.  And, at the end of the weekend, two of them sit down in their first class of the semester and promptly fall asleep.

One problem that I did have with Everybody Wants Some!! is that, as good as job as it does of creating a time and place, it didn’t necessarily convince me that it was a time in which I would want to live in.  As I stated earlier, Everybody Wants Some!! was promoted as being a spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused.  However, Dazed and Confused featured a greater variety of characters.  Practically everyone of note in Everybody Wants Some!! is a member of the school’s baseball team.  True, some of them are smarter than others.  Some of them smoke weed.  Some of them are ultra religious.  But, ultimately, they’re all jocks and they’re all frat boys.  How much you enjoy hanging out with these characters will depend on how much tolerance you have for jocks, frat boys, and their hyper-masculine rituals.  Whenever I’ve seen Dazed and Confused, I’ve thought to myself that if I had been alive and in high school in 1976, I would have wanted to be friends with at least a few of the characters.  On the other hand, if I had been alive and in college in 1980, I would have gone out of my way to avoid that baseball team.

(And, as a result, I probably would have missed a chance to meet Richard Linklater!  There’s a lesson to be learned there.)

Ultimately, though, Everybody Wants Some!! succeeds because, even if the characters aren’t particularly likable, the film itself does capture the feeling and the excitement of having your entire future ahead of you.  Admittedly, there’s a hint of melancholy running through the film.  One character is revealed to be a 30-something imposter who regularly uses a false identity to enroll in different colleges because he loves to play baseball but he knows that he’ll never succeed in the major leagues.  Throughout the film, there are hints that none of these baseball players are ever going to be as successful as they are during that one particular weekend.  But, ultimately, the film tells us that the future doesn’t matter.  What matters is that, for that one weekend, they had their entire future ahead of them and it seemed like anything was possible.

Everybody Wants Some!! may not be Linklater’s best but it definitely deserves to be seen!

(And that concludes Back to School!  Thank you everyone for reading!  Love you!)

 

Back to School Part II #55: Sorority Nightmare (dir by Devon Downs and Kenny Gage)


(For the past three weeks, Lisa Marie has been in the process of reviewing 56 back to school films!  She’s promised the rest of the TSL staff that this project will finally wrap up by the end of today, so that she can devote her time to helping to prepare the site for its annual October horrorthon!  Will she make it or will she fail, lose her administrator privileges, and end up writing listicles for Buzzfeed?  Keep reading the site to find out!)

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When I was going to college, I was actually encouraged by quite a few people to join a sorority but I never did.  What can I say?  I fancied myself as being an artist and an intellectual.  I had no interest in conformity and, to me, that’s what sororities and fraternities represented.  Why would I want to waste my time with that when I could spend my time writing poems about death?  (Add to that, why go through all the trouble of joining a sorority when I knew I could get into all the good parties, regardless of whether I was a member of one or not?)

Seriously!

So, I made my decision to never get involved in any of that and I think I probably made the right choice for me.  But occasionally, I’ll see a film on Lifetime that will make me change my mind.  It seems that every year, there’s a few dozen Lifetime movies that are about something strange happening in a sorority.  In the world of Lifetime, sororities are full of dark secrets, constant melodrama, and, more often than not, a murder or two.   Lifetime makes sorority life look … well, if not exactly fun, at least entertaining!

Consider for instance, the film Sorority Nightmare!  Sorority Nightmare aired on July 21st and, in the best Lifetime tradition, it totally lives up to its name.  All you need to know about Sorority Nightmare is right there in the title.  It deals with a sorority and, oh my God, is this place ever a nightmare!  (According to the imdb, the film’s non-Lifetime title is Twisted Sisters.  That’s a good title because these sorority sisters sure are twisted!)

As the start of the film, first-year college student Sarah (Sierra McCormick) is a lot like me.  She’s an intellectual, a free thinker.  She’s not really interested in being a part of a sorority.  She’d rather hang out with her snarky roommate, Jodi (Sarah Kapner).  Add to that, Sarah still blames herself for the death of her older sister, Jill.  Jill was driving Sarah home after Sarah got too drunk at a party.  When Jill attempted to pose for a selfie while driving, she ended up crashing the car and dying in the process.  Sarah survived but, for obvious reasons, she’s no longer interested in getting drunk at parties.

But, her mother was a member of Psi Kappa and she insists that Sarah actually check the place out.  And since Sarah is a legacy, she’s asked to pledge.  Even though it means losing whatever credibility she may have with Jodi, Sarah decides to join.

It quickly turns out that Psi Kappa is more of a cult than a sorority.  The cult is led by Daisy (Cassidy Gifford), who is friendly, perky, intense, and more than a little frightening.  Daisy not only decides that Sarah is her new best friend but she also suggests that maybe Sarah shouldn’t have any other friends.  When Daisy isn’t trying to control everyone’s lives, she busy popping what she says are breath mints but are actually “diet pills.”

OH MY GOD, DAISY’S A SPEED FREAK!

Anyway, Sorority Nightmare pretty much plays out exactly how you would expect it to but that doesn’t matter.  As played by Cassidy Gifford, Daisy is literally a force of nature.  She’s a nonstop tornado of manipulation and malicousness and it’s a lot of fun to watch.  Sorority Nightmare is one of those wonderfully over the top Lifetime films where it’s obvious that the cast and the crew is in on the joke.  Sit back, don’t worry, and enjoy the melodrama!

Back to School Part II #54: Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (dir by Nicholas Stoller)


(For the past three weeks, Lisa Marie has been in the process of reviewing 56 back to school films!  She’s promised the rest of the TSL staff that this project will finally wrap up by the end of today, so that she can devote her time to helping to prepare the site for its annual October horrorthon!  Will she make it or will she fail, lose her administrator privileges, and end up writing listicles for Buzzfeed?  Keep reading the site to find out!)

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How many times can the same thing keep happening to the same people?

That’s a question that you may be tempted to ask yourself while watching Neighbors 2.  Neighbors 2 is, of course, a sequel to the original Neighbors.  In the first film, Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne played Mac and Kelly Radner, a married couple who are struggling to deal with the fact that, as new parents, they are now officially adults.  When a crazy and wild fraternity moves in next door to them and refuses to tone down their partying ways, Mac and Kelly are forced to take matters into their own hands.  Occasionally hilarious mayhem ensues.

In Neighbors 2, Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne again play Mac and Kelly Radner, a married couple who are struggling to deal with the fact that, as parents who are awaiting the arrival of their 2nd child, they are now officially adults and may have to finally move into a more family friendly house in the suburbs.  When a crazy and wild fraternity sorority moves in next door to them and refuses to tone down their partying ways, Mac and Kelly are forced to take matters into their own hands.  Occasionally hilarious mayhem ensues.

Yeah, it’s all pretty familiar.  Not only are many of the same jokes from the first film repeated but they’re often repeated at that exact same spot in which they originally appeared.  To the film’s credit, it does occasionally acknowledge that it’s repeating itself, though it never quite reaches the self-aware heights of something like 22 Jump Street.  Even Zac Efron returns and, again, he is initially the Radner’s enemy before eventually becoming their ally.

That said, the familiarity is not necessarily a bad thing.  Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne both know how to get laughs, even when they’re telling the same joke that they told a year ago.  Zac Efron tends to try too hard whenever he has a dramatic role (like in The Paperboy, for instance) but he’s got a real talent for comedy.

Ultimately, though, the best thing that saves Neighbors 2 from just being a forgettable comedy sequel is the sorority.  As opposed to the first film’s creepy fraternity, the sorority in Neighbors 2 is partying for a cause greater than just hedonism.  Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz, finally getting to have fun in a movie) starts her independent sorority in response to being told that official sororities are not allowed to throw parties and, instead, can only attend misogynistic frat parties.  When Shelby and her sorority buy the house, it’s not just to make trouble.  It’s because they need a place where they can have a good time without feeling that they’re in constant danger from drunk and perverted frat boys.  A subtext of empowerment through partying runs through Neighbors 2 and it elevates the entire film.

Neighbors 2 is an entertaining film, even if it never leaves as much of an impression as you may hope.  (I have to admit that, whenever I try to list all the films that I’ve seen this year, Neighbors 2 is one of those that I often have to struggle to remember.)  That said, it’s not a terrible way to spend 97 minutes and it’ll make you laugh.  And, ultimately, that really is the most important thing when it comes to comedy.

As for the question of how often can the same thing happen to the same person…

Well, I guess we’ll have to wait for Neighbors 3 to get our answer!

Back to School Part II #53: Stalked By My Doctor: The Return (dir by Doug Campbell)


For the past three weeks, Lisa Marie has been in the process of reviewing 56 back to school films!  She’s promised the rest of the TSL staff that this project will finally wrap up by the end of today, so that she can devote her time to helping to prepare the site for its annual October horrorthon!  Will she make it or will she fail, lose her administrator privileges, and end up writing listicles for Buzzfeed?  Keep reading the site to find out!)

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Oh Hell yeah!

Eric Roberts is back as Dr. Beck and, once again, he’s obsessed with a teenage girl!  Believe it or not, this is a good thing because this obsession leads to Dr. Beck spending a lot of time sitting in a car that’s parked in front of Amy’s (Claire Backwelder) high school.  By doing so, Dr. Beck justifies my decision to include the 2016 Lifetime film Stalked By My Doctor: The Return in my series of Back to School reviews.

Thank you, Dr. Beck!

As you may remember from last year’s Stalked By My Doctor, Dr. Beck is a neurotic doctor who has an unfortunate tendency to get obsessed with his patients.  At the end of the first movie, the good doctor narrowly escaped the police and was last seen flashing a somewhat nervous smile.

At the start of The Return, we find Dr. Beck now living in Mexico.  He’s done a pretty good job of avoiding arrest and has a successful career going as a beach bum but he has yet to find true love.  However, it seems like that might change when, one day, he spots a teenage girl drowning in the ocean.  Dr. Beck not only saves Amy from drowning but he also literally brings her back to life.  Seriously, my wonderful readers, be sure to learn CPR.

(Then again, I’m not sure that I’ve ever learned CPR.  I guess I should.  We can’t always depend on a crazy fugitive doctor to be around.)

Both Amy and her overprotective mom, Linda (Hilary Greer), are thankful and now, Dr. Beck is now obsessed all over again.  In fact, he’s so obsessed that he even risks capture by returning to the United States.  Under the pretense of merely wanting to check up on his patient, Beck starts to stalk Amy.  Taking a lesson from Nabokov’s Lolita, Beck starts to go out with the neurotic Linda.  By marrying Linda, Dr. Beck hopes that he can get to Amy.

All together now: Ewwwwwww!  Bad doctor!

Amy and her boyfriend (Mark Grossman) eventually grow suspicious of Dr. Beck.  They even recruit Amy’s Uncle Roger (Christopher Crabb) to investigate the good doctor.  However, Linda refuses to hear a word against him.  That’s not surprising, considering that she’s just agreed to marry him…

Stalked By My Doctor: The Return is a deliberately over-the-top melodrama, one that has more in common with the snarky satire of A Deadly Adoption than the previous Stalked By My Doctor.  Sprinkled throughout the film are several scenes in which Dr. Beck has conversations with the voices in his head and, as you can probably guess, Eric Roberts plays the Hell out of these scenes.  In fact, Roberts is a force of nature in this film, keeping a straight face while ripping through his overwrought dialogue and only stopping occasionally to wink at the camera, almost as if Dr. Beck realizes that he’s just a character in a Lifetime movie.  Roberts is obviously having a blast in the role and his demented joy is somewhat infectious.  After imagining that he’s killed a dining companion, a blood-covered Roberts says, “Check please,” and his delivery of that one-liner is absolutely brilliant.

Stalked By My Doctor: The Return is a blast of over the top, Eric Roberts-inspired lunacy.

 

Back to School Part II #52: Nerve (dir by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman)


For the past three weeks, Lisa Marie has been in the process of reviewing 56 back to school films!  She’s promised the rest of the TSL staff that this project will finally wrap up by the end of today, so that she can devote her time to helping to prepare the site for its annual October horrorthon!  Will she make it or will she fail, lose her administrator privileges, and end up writing listicles for Buzzfeed?  Keep reading the site to find out!)

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Recently, I came across someone on twitter wondering if Emma Roberts is ever actually going to play an adult role.  Personally, I think the question is a bit unfair (just because you’re playing a teenager, that doesn’t mean that you’re not dealing with “adult” issues) but I understand the logic behind it.  Emma Roberts is a Hollywood veteran who made her film debut 15 years ago.  She’s currently 25 years old but, more often that not, she’s still cast as a high school student.  (At the most, she might occasionally get to be a college student.)  Going solely by her film and television roles, Emma Roberts has been a high school student for 12 years now.

But you know what?

I say more power to Emma Roberts.  Being a teenager is a lot more fun than being an adult and she should stay in high school for as long as she can pull it off!

Anyway, this year’s Emma-Roberts-In-High-School film was a thriller called Nerve.  Actually, very little of the film takes place in high school though a running theme through the film is the desire of a senior named Vee (short for Venus and played by Roberts) to attend the California Institute of the Arts after she graduates.  Unfortunately, it costs money to go to a good school and Vee’s mother (Juliette Lewis) doesn’t have any.  As well, both Vee and her mother are still struggling to accept the recent death of Vee’s brother.

However, there may be a way for Vee to raise the money.  Vee learns that her friend, Sydney (Emily Meade), has become an online star by playing Nerve.  Nerve is a game where you can either volunteer to be a player or you can pay to be a viewer.  (There’s a third role that you can play in Nerve but it’s not a good role and we don’t learn about it until later in the film.)  The watchers dare the players to do something.  If the players do it, they win money.  If the players fail … well, there are consequences for everything.

Though initially reluctant, Vee agrees to be a player.  At first, it’s a lot of fun.  The normally cautious Vee gets to experience the exhilaration of taking a risk.  She even meets another Nerve player, Ian (Dave Franco) and soon the two of them are a team, partners and perhaps something more.  But, as the game progresses, the dares become more dangerous and the stakes get higher.  And, of course, Ian has a secret of his own..

The great thing about Nerve is that it tells a story about what’s is pretty much happening right now.  It’s easy to imagine a real-life version of Nerve going on right now.  As I watched Vee and Ian play Nerve, I was actually reminded of how much fun twitter used to be.  And then, just as happens in Nerve, more and more people got involved and things quickly went downhill.  The more popular both twitter and Nerve became, the less pleasant the experience.  The same is true for just about everything that’s ever happened online.  It always starts out as fun until the trolls arrive.  (And trolls, of course, have the magic ability to use their mere presence to transform former non-trolls into trolls as well.)  Nerve answers the age-old question of why we can’t have nice things.

Beyond that, it’s an entertaining film.  Emma Roberts and Dave Franco make for an exceptionally likable couple, the film is quickly paced, and Michael Simmonds’s cinematography gives the film an appealing and slickly flamboyant look.  Nerve didn’t really get as much attention as it deserved when it was originally released but I have a feeling that it is a film that will be rediscovered and appreciated by viewers in the future.

 

Back to School Part II #51: Killer Coach (dir by Lee Friedlander)


For the past three weeks, Lisa Marie has been in the process of reviewing 56 back to school films!  She’s promised the rest of the TSL staff that this project will finally wrap up by the end of today, so that she can devote her time to helping to prepare the site for its annual October horrorthon!  Will she make it or will she fail, lose her administrator privileges, and end up writing listicles for Buzzfeed?  Keep reading the site to find out!)

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The 2016 film Killer Coach premiered on Lifetime on July 30th.  At the time, I suspected that it was probably being released specifically to capitalize on all of the attention that was being paid to the Summer Olympics in general and Michael Phelps in specific.  After all, Killer Coach is a film about a swimmer in trouble and, as you might guess from the title, a lot of that trouble has to do with her coach.

Now, I have to admit that I kinda ignored the Olympics this year.  I’m as shocked as anyone by that but, quite frankly, I just wasn’t feeling it.  2016 has sapped the enjoyment out of a lot of events that you could previously depend upon.  Hopefully, I’ll regain my excitement in 2018 because I’d hate to miss the curling.  Along with not being into the Olympics this year, I also have an intense fear of drowning and movies that feature people trapped underwater tend to give me nightmares.  With all that in mind, I was worried that Killer Coach might not be for me.  However, I still watched it because it was on Lifetime.  You know how that goes.

Well, I shouldn’t have worried.  Killer Coach was pure Lifetime goodness, even if it never quite reached the wonderful heights of The Perfect Teacher or Babysitter’s Black Book.  Though the film may have been advertised to exploit all the attention being given to the Olympics, it was not necessary to be a swim fan to appreciate it.  As for the drowning scenes — well, there were a few but they didn’t traumatize me.  In the best Lifetime tradition, Killer Coach is pure entertainment.  No need to worry about trauma.

As for the film, it’s about Samantha (Javicia Leslie).  Sam is a smart and popular high school student.  She also has the potential to be one of the best swimmers in the country and is looking forward to going to college on a swim scholarship.  Who knows?  Olympics medals may be in her future!  As for Sam, she’s mostly just looking forward to a future with her boyfriend (Cameron Jebo).

Sam’s coach, Gina (Keesha Sharp), puts her under constant pressure.  Nothing is ever good enough for Gina.  That’s what a coach is supposed to do, right?  The only problem is that Gina is also Sam’s mother and it’s obvious that she’s reliving her own past as a championship swimmer through her daughter.  Gina is so intense that Sam is happy that the new assistant coach appears to be so laid back.  Even better, Bryce (Tom Maden) is hot!

Of course, he’s also kind of crazy.  After a one night stand, he grows obsessed with Sam and starts stalking her.  It’s actually kind of a nice reverse on the typical Lifetime storyline.  Usually, it’s a student stalking a teacher.

Anyway, there’s more to the story than just that.  Bryce is fueled by more than just obsession and Gina has secrets in her own past.  I didn’t really care about any of that and I could have done without it.  The film is far more interesting when it just focuses on Bryce as a crazed authority figure.

Killer Coach is well-filmed by veteran Lifetime director Lee Friedlander and he keeps the story moving along quickly.  Leslie is sympathetic as Samantha and Maden is memorably unhinged as her stalker.  Killer Coach is an above average Lifetime film and definitely an entertaining way to spend two hours.