TBT: National Lampoon’s Van Wilder (2002)

Panic time is now over as I have finally found something to talk about this Thursday. (Why don’t I have a DVD plan with Netflix yet? That would surely eliminate some of this stress of finding movies I want to see only to be denied by a limited viewing availability. Oh, wait. That’s right. It costs more money. Yes, I’m poor — I can’t afford that kind of an upgrade, and yes, I will allow you to snicker at me. That’s totally fine.) But once again my DVD library saves me and I don’t have to skip out on

Today’s food for thought: Van Wilder.

National Lampoon's Van Wilder

Refusing to graduate since: April 5, 2002

[DVD]

It might be surprising to some that a film like Van Wilder, a male college freshman’s wet dream, shares the umbrella title ‘National Lampoon’ with the likes of comedy classics such as the Vacation films and Animal House. How could the company have allowed such a degradation of their comedic appeal to happen? Of course, I hold my judgment for what came after the Ryan Reynolds vehicle. There’s a movie floating out there called National Lampoon’s Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj which extends Kal Penn’s redemptive story arc from this film into a full-length feature in which he grows into his own at a fictional England-set university. The less said about that one though, the better.

No, the National Lampoon name wasn’t properly sullied until that film debuted (to an audience of silent crickets) in 2006. Truthfully its reputation may have been done in even before this, as the early 2000s gave birth to a litany of unrelated, increasingly juvenile concepts such as Barely Legal and of course, who can forget N.L. Presents: Cattle CallVan Wilder isn’t particularly revolutionary comedy, demonstrating a keen interest in sexual conquest à la the American Pie franchise while consciously veering away from the more creative situational comedy that produced the Griswold family. Still, with Reynolds starring as the big man at Coolidge College and an emphasis on raucous party-hosting, at least the atmosphere vaguely recalls the scent of John Belushi’s frat house.

Walt Becker’s Van Wilder represented a bright spot in a dark decade when J2 Communications bought the license to the Lampoon name. Even the Chevy Chase-led Vegas Vacation couldn’t bring about the kind of success the original family outings had. The story concerns a young man who, afraid of life after college, perpetually puts off graduating despite a seven-year undergraduate career. He frequently refers to his stay at Coolidge as a “dare to be great” situation, implying that his undecided status is not only intentional but beneficial. How else do you sample all that a major university has to offer?

Of course, his attitude doesn’t sit right with everyone, most notably his father, Van Wilder Sr. (Tim Matheson) who promptly puts a stop on tuition checks when he discovers his son has spent the better part of a decade at Coolidge without earning a degree. Forced to take action to ensure his continued flourishing, Wilder enlists the help of his foreign exchange student/horny assistant Taj Mahal Badalandabad and longtime friend Hutch (Teck Holmes) to plan a semester filled with fundraisers disguised as extravagant bacchanalias. (I still feel like I missed out on the ‘Sue Me, Screw Me Soiree.’)

In full control of his own destiny, Van Wilder is a thoroughly likable young man and that’s wholly due to Reynolds’ comfort in the role. He oozes charisma, optimism and yes, okay, sex appeal but he’s also generous and surprisingly altruistic for a supposed party boy. His knowing winks at the camera — ‘Oh wow, you guys didn’t think that I could pull that off? Me neither!’ — lend the film most of its appeal. Daniel Cosgrove’s Richard Bagg makes up for what Reynolds cannot provide: the film’s obligatory antagonism. Someone has to try to knock the King of Coolidge down a notch or two, right?

As president of Delta Iota Kappa (that’s DIK for short, get it?), Bagg sees Wilder as a threat to his future of attending the prestigious Northwestern University to become a doctor having learned his girlfriend Gwen Pearson (Tara Reid) has been associating with a different social circle when she’s assigned to cover Van Wilder for a story for the campus paper. Cosgrove goes all in, expending a good deal of energy playing this pig of a frat president who winds up on the receiving end of two of the film’s most notorious pranks — one, a scene involving Twinkies and dog sperm (yummy!) disguised as goodies in a false waving of the white flag; the other a highly amusing use of laxatives. The rivalry between Wilder and Bagg is gross and juvenile and ultimately pointless, but damn it if it’s not entertaining stuff.

The most thoroughly unbelievable aspect of Van Wilder is Reid’s journalist Gwen. Not that her stories are outlandish, or that pretty women can’t be journalists. Reid simply doesn’t convince. I buy her story of her movie brother playing hockey for the New York Rangers more than I buy her as a member of the press. But what does any of this really matter anyway? Are we really supposed to believe Wilder’s refusal to graduate is the x-factor in how Coolidge comes together as a community? Would this many people bother to rally around a single student’s cause? A cause that’s in no way health-related nor beneficial to the greater social good. We need look no further than how Van Wilder ends to understand what this particular movie is lampooning.

Becker clearly enjoys mocking the bureaucracy behind higher education. A raucous Hawaiian-themed blow-out brings closure to Wilder’s daddy issues, unites Taj with the girl of his dreams, and finally throws Gwen right into Van’s lap, even if this was a foregone conclusion the moment we first saw the two interact. That the film ends in spectacular party fashion says much about what is expected of the average college student.

Recommendation: It may not rank amongst National Lampoon’s best but Van Wilder is a solid enough addition to the film franchise that expanded the reputation of the humor-based magazine of the same name. From the opening scene this film launches an all-out campaign to offend and disgust in the name of poor taste. If you’re not a fan of that kind of stuff you may as well ignore this. If that stuff sits right with you, this might have been a film you watched over and again before you left for college. Or maybe that’s just me.

Rated: R

Running Time: 92 mins.

TBTrivia: Ryan Reynolds only saw a rough cut of the film before it came out. He hasn’t seen the film since.

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TBT: Superbad (2007)

Time to break out your favorite JanSport backpack, No.2 pencils and loose leaf notebook paper boys and girls, because it’s once again time to go back to hell school in this second edition of Throwback to School September. (Catchy phrase, right?) Fortunately in this world, all you’ll really need is a backpack to throw in some illegally purchased bottles of liquor as you seek high school celebrity status in 

Today’s food for thought: Superbad.

Becoming McLovin’ since: August 17, 2007

[DVD]

Instead of offering my thoughts on this raucous comedy from the dirty minds of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, I figured I’d once again do something a little different with this TBT and list the ten things I was reminded of about high school having watched this movie. I will just say that one thing that works in this film’s favor, aside from the ideal casting of Jonah Hill, Michael Cera and Christopher Mintz-Plasse — all three physically embodying high school seniors while simultaneously fully embracing their juvenile mentality — is a script that tells it like it is. After all, Superbad was never a film you wanted to watch with the parents, it’s too awkward. Just like high school.

TEN THINGS ABOUT HIGH SCHOOL SUPERBAD REMINDED ME OF

#1) Hormones dictate every decision (and purchase) you make.

#2) We gave teachers way too much shit. They’re too underpaid to be this under-appreciated, even if half of what they taught us we never ended up using.

#3) Some cliché about how generally useless P.E. classes were. Why couldn’t high school have recess, like the good old elementary school days? And why did we have to wear those tatty shirts that were cribbed from a Wal-Mart dumpster?

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#4) Of all the rites of passages, getting your driver’s license was one of the greatest because it meant you could go and hang out with your friends whenever you wanted. Only drawback? Being 16 and having a curfew.

#5) Going to a party where you didn’t really know anyone and where everyone was older than you was the most uncomfortable thing ever. Especially when you found out that some of them were coked out of their minds.

#6) Teenage crushes. Awwwwwwww

#7) Every year there seemed to be at least one major fight. We’d always gather in the parking lot of The Fresh Market to see who would win. Most of the time all they amounted to was a bunch of shouting and insults regarding a certain female parental unit. But every once in awhile we were treated to a spectacular showdown.

#8) Peer pressure could be a bitch.

#9) Adults seemed lame at the time. (Spoiler alert: they still are.)

#10) Senior year is a bittersweet time. Friendships are fleeting, and who knows where everyone ends up in college. The trick is to make the most of what time you have left together.


Recommendation: One of the definitive movies about the high school experience, Superbad is a must-watch, especially if you’re facing your ten year high school reunion. Endowed with an incredible script that’s essentially a pervert’s stream of consciousness, and armed with superb performances from its entire cast Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg struck comedic gold with their story that’s loosely based on their own experiences. Pretty much a modern classic. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 113 mins.

TBTrivia: When this was being filmed, Christopher Mintz-Plasse was 17 years old and so his mother had to be present on set during his sex scene. I guess for some, the awkwardness from high school never goes away.

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TBT: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

As we start setting our sights on the fall season, kids also have to start setting their sights on their homework and class schedules. I don’t. (Ha!) But that just means I’m of a certain age. So, in my ‘old age’ that’s not really old age but is fun to say old age because that’s just the excuse going around right now, I want to do some reflecting back on movies about school or that are about the education process. Some people might find this topic a little lame, and to those folks I say: go stick on a dunce cap and sit in the corner. 😉 My overly-confident-sounding tone is brought to you by

Today’s food for thought: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. (wink) 

Ferris Buellers Day Off

Rudely interrupting parades in a completely unconvincing fashion since: June 11, 1986

[Netflix]

Some movies might just be better left in the past. After all, memories can last a lifetime. Sadly, there’s a caveat to that, as over time memories tend to start romanticizing rather than simply recalling events and experiences. Just because they may last forever doesn’t mean they necessarily remain accurate. While I wouldn’t say my memory has failed me when it comes to John Hughes’ too-cool-for-school comedy, I kind of regret going back to this movie. What was so wrong with keeping my memory of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off the way it was?

I don’t remember this kid being such a jerk and so entitled. I don’t remember the writing being so atrocious. Of course, I recall pretty much all the mischief he and his girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) and friend Cameron (Alan Ruck) got into over the course of a single day but Bueller’s allergy to altruistic behavior seems to be something that escaped Younger Me. Ah, Younger Me. Damn you for having things so easy. That me could just sit there and take a movie in and enjoy it. That me could appreciate a movie being just about playing hooky and nothing else. The plot’s still just as digestible and unobtrusive, built out of simple pleasures, like getting to flip the middle finger to those in authority. Now, simplicity actually draws attention to other things.

After so much time you start to realize how many scenes have been parodied past the point of recognition. You are more familiar with the parodies than the original scene(s), although this is by no means the fault of Hughes or his cast. Over time the tone of said parody has also changed. What were once reverential spoofs have become innumerable opportunities to cash in on trendiness. When Cameron’s scream echoed throughout all of Chicago, having realized how many miles they had just put on his father’s Ferrari by driving it around all day, I had to remind myself that what I was watching was the actual scene; this wasn’t a parody.

In some ways Ferris Bueller is a parody of life at the teenage level. Wanting to skip a day of school remains a timeless, fairly universal experience — I’m pretty sure I faked being sick once or twice — and the character continues to represent that part of us that wishes we had more control over the things we don’t want to deal with. In the annals of cinema history he’s a hero for his principled stand. And for pulling one over mom and dad — though this is much less impressive when he’s raised by parents only slightly more capable than Bam Margera’s. This time Hughes is nauseatingly optimistic, far more concentrated on getting as far away from the doldrums of high school where poor Ferris heretofore has had to suffer years of being generally well-liked. Woe as him.

Unlike much of Hughes’ work, Ferris Bueller is far more screwball comedy than coming-of-age. In fact it’s actually more akin to fantasy than comedy. Everything comes together so perfectly (for Ferris, not so much for poor Cameron or Jeffrey Jones’ Principal Rooney) and despite developments that threaten to derail the perfect day — losing the Ferrari temporarily to someone posing as a valet driver who takes it for a joy ride; almost getting caught on TV while at a baseball game; an extremely determined Principal Rooney hot on Ferris’ heels — there’s never any doubt that things will work out. There is very little conflict and even less consequence: we never get to hear the conversation Cameron has with his dad; never see what becomes of Ferris’ classmates rallying behind him, hoping that he makes a speedy recovery from ‘being sick;’ never get to find out why these parents are just so . . . bad at parenting.

Gee golly willickers, I find myself sharing Jeanie’s point of view now more than Ferris’. (And also my dear friend Zoe’s. Feel alone no longer, Zoe, for I too share some of your pain in watching this movie. 😉 ) Like his sister I’ve always been amazed at the things Ferris manages to get away with without being remotely apologetic. I’m not sure how I feel about comparing myself to this person because, as I’ve found, I regard Jeanie as a bit of a bitch. Of course, it’s nothing that a quick make-out session with a visibly stoned Charlie Sheen at the police station can’t cure. Maybe I, too, should have made out with him, thus allowing myself to enjoy some time off from movie watching with an embittered, overly judgmental mindset. Maybe then I would be able to still look at this creation as art instead of artifice.

Recommendation: I have confirmed this is one of those movies I enjoyed far more as a wee lad, and not so much as a jaded adult. Kind of sad, right? It’s not that I find Ferris a rather unlikable fella (I think many can agree on that point), but I remembered this movie being just a little bit more believable. John Hughes constructs such a ridiculous series of events, suggesting if you plan to skip out on school (or work) you better have other, far more elaborate plans to enact lest you completely waste that day. A movie that’s far easier (and fun) to buy into as a kid than an adult.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 103 mins.

TBTrivia: After working together on Weird Science (1985), John Hughes offered Bill Paxton the role of the garage attendant. Paxton turned it down because he felt the role was too small. He admits that he regrets turning it down because Hughes never offered him a role again. 

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TBT: Mean Girls (2004)

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Well the final bell is about to ring on this back-to-school portion of TBT. . . and. . .I bet at least three of my readers would have never seen this one coming today. I will have to admit I didn’t either. I’m not even quite sure what prompted me to seek out this title, but boy am I glad that I did. This is one of those times I’m dually rewarded; not just for my bravery in going with something completely out of the blue at the last moment, but for chancing a film titled something like 

Today’s food for thought: Mean Girls.

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Missing this side of Lindsay Lohan since: April 30, 2004

[Netflix]

This Thursday is a great reminder of why it’s important to not judge a book (film) by its cover (weak title). I loved Mean Girls.

Sharp, intelligent writing and some surprisingly heartfelt moments made this teen drama a worthy entry into the crowded coming-of-age genre, and it lay on the laughs in fitful doses in spite of what once appeared as audience-pandering varnish. The glitz and the glam in this film applies sorta like it does in real life: turns out, beauty’s skin deep, and there’s much more to be found in this story about a white girl from Africa — Cady (it’s pronounced “Katie,” thank you very much), played by a Lindsay Lohan we hope is sober — who goes behind enemy lines of the ‘popular crowd,’ here referred to as ‘The Plastics,’ to upend the social order.

This, at the behest of the outcast but really cool kid Janis Ian (Lizzy Caplan) who wants nothing more than to topple the queen of the bitches, Regina George (Rachel McAdams, who clearly reveled in the opportunity to break from her sweet-girl persona).

While the attending tropes of the genre were almost as easy to pick out as Cady’s social clumsiness was in the beginning, Mean Girls is not as dumb as it looked, thanks to the wit of one Tina Fey, who not only services the film gracefully and amusingly as your vintage “I recognize how unhip I am as a math teacher” type role model — she also penned the script.

That second part? Definitely good news for me, and for anyone under the false assumption this movie is just about applying make-up and making fun of the fuglies. Well, there is a little of that too. But oh my gosh, it’s like. . . so totally fetch.

Fey conjured up a school environment ripe with drama and interesting characters. There were the obvious targets: the aforementioned high-brows who wear high-heels and bad attitudes, the jocks, and the sexually-deprived math nerds. Moving on down the list of significance to the more frequently overlooked: the punk-rockers, the try-too-hard’s, the — and I’m paraphrasing — very pretty but unfriendly black girls, the awkwardly disfigured, the burn-outs, the downright not-good-lookers. Comprehensive. Thorough. Borderline insensitive. In essence, not at all what I had this movie pegged for.

But what perhaps solidified Mean Girls‘ status as a valid piece of commentary on the high school experience was the attention to detail. Conversations are often brutal, even heart-breaking, especially when it comes to evaluating waist sizes. Characters mattered (see: Daniel Franzese’s hilarious Damian). The set-up’s also engaging. Whereas certain developments play out predictably — the eventual downfall of Cady is none too subtle and neither are the fates of a few relationship triangles, romantic or otherwise — there are others that come out of left field, but in the best possible way. The idea Principal Duvall (Tim Meadows, master of the dead-pan delivery) had to gather all females in the gym for one hell of an interesting conflict resolution session stood out among them. There was also the reciprocating of the evils between newcomer Cady and the queen of the bitches.

Back-stabbing never seemed so much fun you guys! Despite colliding with several cliches, Mean Girls delivered big on laughs, entertainment and faithfulness to a certain culture of irrepressible silliness. When scenes played out in Cady’s head, we are treated to the scenario in slow-motion, backed-up with vicious animal noises, an effect that might seem goofy when read about, but whose effect gradually provides a cumulative effect that brought out the best in this mean-spirited mayhem.

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3-5Recommendation: A thoroughly entertaining comedy from the early 2000s that provided as much heart as it did laughs, while in the guise of what’s ostensibly a chick flick. Perhaps the surprise factor helped, but I laughed myself silly in key scenes here. The film had spirit, good-looking girls, and it also had something of an important message to impart its viewers with. It’s also ironic. If you can’t be accepted as Lindsay Lohan, just. . . try something else until that doesn’t work. Then go back to being Lindsay Lohan.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 96 mins.

TBTrivia: Tim Meadows had apparently broken his hand prior to shooting, and his character ends up wearing a cast for the duration. It is explained away as him having carpal tunnel syndrome.

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TBT: Dead Poets Society (1989)

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As if this wasn’t going to happen you guys. . .

This is the perfect combination of fitting in with this month’s sort-of-theme (going back to school, woo!) and the ongoing tribute to one of my favorite performers of all time. We now have an opportunity to crack into what many of us probably hold dear to our hearts as one of the most touching Robin Williams performances. Though I doubt many grade-school classes have collectively taken a stand up on their desks in protest of their “oppressive teachers” and “unreasonable course loads,” few and far between are the folks who haven’t at least wanted to. Try coming across someone who hasn’t at some point quoted a line from  

Today’s food for thought: Dead Poet’s Society

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Carpe-ing the diem since: June 2, 1989

[DVD]

Somewhere out there is a teacher I am indebted to for introducing me to this film. I am a little embarrassed I can’t remember in what class I watched this, but I’m so fortunate that was the environment in which it was brought to my attention because I’m not typically drawn to school dramas, even with a name like Robin Williams in it. I’m fairly sure this would have been a title I might have avoided had it not been for the chance encounter in an English class.

Perhaps not. Inevitability might have had the final say on that, for Peter Weir’s ode to the fleeting nature of boyish idealism and romantic notions of challenging the status quo is a difficult one to avoid, and turned out to be so unlike the eponymous club of the initiated. Its influence has been ever-widening, like ripples in a pond gradually encompassing everything within its borders. One thinks of inspirational films, and good chance this title is one of the first five or ten that come to mind.

There were no rites of passage in getting to know William’s John Keating. Taking him into our hearts was a most natural transformation. His passionate, colorful and off-beat approach to educating his students — nay, enlightening them — was what made this film crackle to life, what made this place worth tolerating if you could take his words and make them apply to your own place in the universe.

“Tradition. Honor. Discipline. Excellence.” The four pillars of education echoed monotonously off physical ones, drowning in the catacombs of this most unholy of institutions. Attending a school like the stiff Walton Academy for Boys for even a single semester was more than enough time to become jaded, enough time for one’s skin to toughen to the point of becoming brittle in response to a cruel and demanding world built by dedicated workers, not daydreamers. After all, boys won’t be boys for long, and outside the walls of the prep academy lay a laundry list of matters of pressing urgency that demanded focus and seriousness of purpose. In the short term this necessarily implied preening one’s self for the pristine Ivy Leaguers. After that, perhaps careers of distinguished but quiet fame.

Dead Poets Society is written beautifully, weighing the values of traditional, old-school practicality against the inexplicable urgency of youth and individuality. The passion that threatened to tear the two conventions apart rightfully secured the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar in 1990. Beyond bullish headmaster Mr. Nolan (Norman Lloyd) and the parade of tenured graybeards roaming the Academy’s hallways — threatening, as always, with a paddle to beat the next free-thinking so-and-so into submission — notions of conformity and obedience extended to peripheral characters such as Mr. Perry (Kurtwood Smith), in effect blanketing this 1950s scene in a snowdrift of almost inescapable bleakness. To a lesser extent, meek and mild Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke) came from a well-to-do household that ultimately becomes divided over the John Keating situation. His situation was far less severe than Neal Perry’s, but it helped paint a bigger picture, a society still clinging on to old values in whatever way it could.

The harsh environs no doubt enhanced this newcomer’s rejuvenating presence. Not just because of Williams, but because the character was such a departure from everything these young and wide-eyeds had known; a much-needed warmth to melt away the layers of permanent frost this isolated community was erstwhile entrenched. I feel we’ve been indebted to the great Robin Williams in the same way I want to tell that teacher I owe him or her one. This experience is certainly one for the books.

4-0Recommendation: A film with little urgency for me to recommend. You’ve either caught this in class (or slept through it, who knows), or on television at some point, surely. An immensely popular film for all the right reasons, Dead Poets Society managed to capture the fleeting essence of boyhood developing into manhood in an era where tolerance for deviating from the norm was more frowned upon than encouraged. Packed to the brim with memorable and inspiring quotes, the film I recommend without restraint as your next Robin Williams adventure if you haven’t seen it already.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 128 mins.

TBTrivia: The irony in Robert Sean Leonard’s character’s struggles here are not lost upon dedicated viewers of the hit TV drama House, wherein Leonard plays one of the heartbeats in Dr. James Wilson, perhaps the only legitimate friend of the ornery Dr. Gregory House. Here, Neal Perry battles with his no-nonsense father about a career in acting, though his father demands he attend medical school. A request that comes at a price of tragic proportions.

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TBT: Accepted (2006)

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Well today, I went from this to that, and that to this and that to that and finally from this to this. It’s been a struggle. While all this dilly-dallying is going on, there are kids going back to school. Or college students preparing to do so. For those people I spare no sympathies because I too was once there. I was once lugging around unreasonably weighty backpacks filled with textbooks I barely cracked all semester. I was once a freshman, riddled with pimples (ew). I was once a senior slowly but surely accepting that all of this — this façade that had come to define who I was for this part of my life — was no longer my reality. Here’s a throwback that actually still manages to recall some of those feelings. This isn’t by any means a technically accomplished movie, but it’s still 

Today’s food for thought: Accepted.

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Release: August 18, 2006

[DVD]

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Bartleby “B” Gaines (Justin Long), a high school graduate falling perilously short of not only his own standards of who he ought to be (or — and how’s this for nursing those cliché withdrawals — who he is destined to become) but those of his parents as well. Bartleby is kind of falling behind as compared to his graduating classmates, and it probably doesn’t help much that he’s named Bartleby.

With frustration and pressure mounting — his parents nagging him at every second, begging and imploring him to get into a “good school” (as all loving and devoted parents ought) and his miss Smarty Pants sister egging on his fears about never getting into college — B finds very little comfort in the fact his other friends are off on a good foot, many of them getting into the first college they applied to. Left in the dust, B comes up with an off-the-cuff plan to establish a fictitious school, one in which walk-ins can sign up for any class as if it were a public health clinic. Classes they so desire in order to set foot on a path that is uniquely their own, and one constructed for their own individual brands of success. How quaint!

That Accepted is plastered with sentimentality and dick jokes — a really weird mix, bro (kind of like vodka and cat food. . .trust me, don’t try it at home) — won’t surprise anyone who happens upon the title and then chooses to embrace its contents. Everything about the process of Bartleby accruing a group of unlikelies for a common cause screams cliched and unoriginal. And that’s precisely what this is. But we aren’t meant to use our heads for this hysterical interpretation of the drafting of high schoolers into institutions of higher education. We’re meant to sit back, laugh and enjoy time going by. That’s a task made easier by certain presences in this film, in particular Lewis Black. And a task also made more difficult by director Steve Pink’s incredibly low ambitions. What could have been a film devoted to revealing the painful truth about the realities of colleges accepting more applications than they have spaces to fill, instead devolves into a raunch-fest filled with overhyped sex, drugs and rock-and-roll jokes.

I wish I were just being cute with that last line. Unfortunately all three of those boxes get ticked with no degree of shame, with a Steve Buscemi-look-a-like fulfilling the rock-star student quota (random). Accepted is a terribly lazy movie, a rehash of several other similar films whose perception of the world may not be any more healthy but are certainly more well formed than this. For the very definition of contrived is now spelt S.H.I.T. (South Harmon Institute of Technology, the fictitious community college B drafts up in an effort to show his parents he is actually attending school and not just. . .yeah, making them up off the top of his head).

Accepted gets high off of making a mockery of the college application process. It features a group of mis-fits — they are unsympathetic in this way as none of our central characters are particularly charming or even likable —  that includes Long’s “B;” (chubby) Jonah Hill’s Sherman Shrader; Maria Thayer’s Rory Thayer (hey, she used her last name!); Columbus Short’s ‘Hands’ (which isn’t nearly as perverse as it may sound); and of course, the token stoner dude, Glen (Adam Herschmann). . . who is conceived of as the dumbest person possibly on this campus. What is his major malfunction? Inhaling too many pot leaves, apparently.

This is a comedy that caters to the lowest-common IQ level and has no qualms with sticking it to ‘the man.’ The man in this case, being whoever decided that four-year degrees are the only ones worth pursuing. Steve Pink actually wisely selected Lewis Black as the mouthpiece for this particular viewpoint. His character, Ben Lewis (who happens to be Shrader’s uncle) can’t help but let his mouth overflow geyser-esque on the subject of educating America’s youth today. He always has an opinion and always has to share it loudly with the rest of us. I’m game for that, but not for the fact that no one seems to take notice of his impassioned gimmickry. Every note that Black hits is loud, but rings false. He couldn’t give a shit either. The script dictates that he should at least try.

Yeah, I can’t (and won’t) be the judge here, despite how much this movie annoys me. Extending one’s own educational background, be it for an extra semester or the pursuit of another doctoral degree, is a noble investment of one’s personal time and the film’s core message highlights the importance of staying in school and improving upon one’s self.

That’s good. That’s actually healthy. Unfortunately what Steve Pink et al chooses to do with his material is not. Rather than portraying a rather mature landscape of alternative-education avenues, his film marginalizes the individual seeking an alternative scholastic path as someone who must have something inherently wrong with them. On top of this film being an amateur production, I disagree with this film on principle. It sends all the wrong kinds of messages and for that reason, this film is bothersome.

Film Title: Accepted

“Oh man, something stinks!” (Yeah, it’s the script!)

2-5Recommendation: Don’t watch this film unless in the mood for some inane comedy, comedy that works much better in other more fully-developed films of the same ilk. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 93 mins.

Quoted: “. . .I got fired for making a shrimp slushy.”

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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

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The dog days of summer are upon us. It’s August, and that means back to school for some and the vacations are mostly over for the families who have been basking in the glorious summer sun (though I look forward personally to some more reasonable temperatures. . . we pasty-skinned Brits burn just embarrassingly easily). Yes, August is the one month pretty much everyone aged 10 – 22 sort of thinks is a major buzzkill. But it’s not all bad news, when you think of some of the good old back-to-school (or even just school-related) flicks that have graced our screens over the years. Though they all pretty much boil down to the typical coming-of-age tale, who’s to say that’s not perfectly acceptable escapism from what really lies around the corner. . . . ?

Today’s food for thought: Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

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Hanging with Mr. Hand after hours since: August 13, 1982

[DVD]

Oh, to be young and Spicoli again.

I wonder if that’s what Sean Penn thinks every time he glances back on this role (I don’t know what says he does, but humor me for a second, would ya?). . . .if he thinks this role in particular was his true blue Oscar. Truth be told, it is actually difficult picturing a stoner role landing the big whale in February but if there ever were a person. . .a character who came close, I’d say it’d be Penn’s righteously blown-out pot-smoking slacker.

No doubt he’s a highlight, but fortunately Penn’s representative of only one portion of the total population. Granted, his clique might be one of the more amusing and entertaining to hang with, but it’s a credit to the considerations of writer Cameron Crowe and director Amy Heckerling (Clueless) that the story is filled with so much more, so many more different avenues that collectively create the high school experience. Sure, the decades have changed, but we all know the biggest thing that has affected is the hairstyles.

There’s something deeply true and honest about this immersive experience, something that goes beyond the dynamite chemistry between the vacuous Spicoli and the dreaded English teacher, Mr. Hand. In fact, I’ve got you covered. Here are (the) five reasons this classic is already in your collection (and if it isn’t, well then you’ve got your next project to work on. Rent it, and pronto Tonto!) . . . because, well, let’s face it. Not only are these five images amazing moments from the film, they do quite a thorough job pinning the high school population down to its core groups:

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Spicoli vs Mr. Hand (Ray Walston) These two have a very special relationship. Spicoli is not only one of Ridgemont’s most notorious pot-heads, he’s always late to class, a fact that never sits well with the disciplinarian Mr. Hand. Love ’em, hate ’em, but you just can’t get rid of ’em — the lazy student who always provides the rest of the class entertainment with his combative form of self-expression, and the teacher who is seemingly out to get everyone and make the semester hell. They make an entertaining combo for the film as well as prove to be a compelling example of teacher doing his job, while World’s Worst student learns the same about him. There’s beauty in the mutual respect they end up stumbling upon.

Quoted: “You dick!”

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Mike Damone (Robert Romanus) vs Unplanned Pregnancy Everyone knows a Damone — a lone wolf, the tough guy in the crowd. . .and, okay, so the one you know may not scalp movie tickets but this guy you know has similar schemes. He’s mostly a decent guy who has been endowed with the gift of gab and as such, fancies himself a ladies’ man. A bit misled, sure, but his constant confidence makes you feel good about not only yourself but the times you spend with him. However, is this the kind of dude who sticks around for the harder times? Is there more underneath, or is this just what you get — just a good-looking façade?

Quoted: “I mean, don’t just walk in. You move across the room. And you don’t talk to her. You use your face. You use your body. You use everything. That’s what I do. I mean I just send out this vibe and I have personally found that women do respond. I mean, something happens.”

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Charles Jefferson (Forest Whitaker) vs the Lincoln High football squad After Spicoli wrecks the crap out of Ridgemont’s star athlete’s beautiful Camaro during a joy ride, it’s all Spicoli can do to hide the fact it was him responsible, so in a panic he disguises the accident as an intentional act on the part of a rivaling high school football team. This causes Charles to fly into a rage, injuring several players in their next game in the process. True, there may be some sort of personality lurking deep inside, but you best not come across this jock after his most valuable possession has just been destroyed. We all have that special thing we can’t afford to lose. For most of us, though, that ain’t a Z-28.

Quoted: [forget the quote. Watch this clip.]

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Brad vs. Linda in Stacy’s bathroom Poor Brad’s had a heck of a senior year. Lost his job because of an obnoxious customer. Lost his second job because they made him wear a pirate costume (and also deal with obnoxious customers). Lost his girlfriend Lisa in the crossfire, and when he gets caught, shall we say. . . sorting something out in the bathroom at Stacy’s, he essentially loses his pride. But Brad’s not a bad guy, he’s just going through a rough phase and wants out of it, now. Who can’t identify with this feeling?

Quoted: “Mister, if you don’t shut up, I’m going to kick one hundred percent of your ass!”

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Mark (Brian Backer) /Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) vs Sexual Tension Without a doubt, here’s the pair that come the closest to anchoring the romantic component of those four angst-y, awkward years. Neither Mark nor Stacy have much of a clue when it comes to dating and romance, so when their respective friends Damone and Linda give them a few pointers, all bets are off when it comes down to taking friendly advice or doing what they both feel is the natural thing to do. They’re both sweet and charming and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who can’t find something of their self in these two lovebirds.

Quoted: “You know Damone I always stick up for you. They say oh, Damone that loud mouth — and they say that a lot. I say ‘Oh, no you just don’t know Damone.’ I mean when they call you an idiot, I say Damone’s not an idiot. Well, you know something maybe they know you pretty good. Maybe I’m just starting to find out.”


4-5Recommendation: Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a staple of the early ’80s. While it hardly breaks free of its fair share of era clichés (well, I guess they’re more like stereotypes at this point), this fast-paced ride sheds light on all corners of the high school experience, carrying an optimistic and truly fantastic energy from start to finish, much in the same vein as The Breakfast Club, Dazed and Confused along with a handful of other lesser-known silver screen signets now owned on home video by millions of children of the ’70s and ’80s. I’m going to sound like a very broken record, but they just don’t seem to make comedies (or movies in general) like this anymore. And at the very bare minimum, see this one for one of Sean Penn’s greatest performances ever in his break-out role as Spicoli. You (probably) won’t be sorry.

Rated: R

Running Time: 90 mins.

TBTrivia: Phoebe Cates’ reaction face in the above image is very, very real and natural. Fortunately, the thing she is reacting to is not. . .so much. . . .

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com