The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: John Hughes on Netflix (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | December 30, 2014 | Add Comments

John Hughes' classic teen dramedy The Breakfast Club (1985)For many, the holiday season means ample time for movie viewing at home and, in our digital world of always-on screens, on Netflix. Two teen classics from the 1980’s prime of writer-director John Hughes – The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – are streaming now, but only one is worth your time.

The Breakfast Club will turn 30 years old in two months, but, to the eyes of this thirteen year-old, the film’s biting humor, soul-bearing honesty, and wonderful ear for teen talk pack an uproarious, tear-jerking punch on first viewing. The film opens, along with the thumping drums and yearning vocals of Simple Mind’s hopelessly, delightfully cheesy “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”, with Anthony Michael Hall’s voice-over: “You see us as you want to see us…In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That’s the way we saw each other at seven o’clock this morning. We were brainwashed.” For the rest of the film’s pensive but goofy 97 minutes, the five students (nerdy but wounded Brian (Anthony Michael Hall); pressured jock Andrew (Emilio Estevez); lying loner Allison (Ally Sheedy), beloved rich kid Claire (Molly Ringwald), and rebellious delinquent Bender (Judd Nelson) perpetuate and then shatter these stereotypes during an 8-hour Saturday detention. They’re forced to write a 1,000 word essay, but they end up doing anything but. The kids get high, tell lies, wander the hallways (and the ceilings), share their deepest secrets, and wonder…when they come back to school on Monday, will anything be different?

For a star-studded Hollywood comedy, this is deep, dark, low-key stuff. The film, which revolves around five characters talking, owes much of it’s success to writer-director John Hughes’ fresh, authentic, insightful, and hilarious dialogue (legend has it he wrote the script in two days). What he lacks in cinematic style, he certainly makes up for with his singular, distinctive voice.

Luckily, he also found the right actors to bring that voice to the screen. The ensemble cast of budding Brat Packers have a surprising knack of comic timing, a keen sense of affecting but not sappy sentimentality, and genuine chemistry. The cast takes Hughes’ vibrantly written characters and gives them faces: Michael Hall and his injured geekiness; Estevez with his misleading shield of athletic strength; the unpredictable bizarreness of Sheedy; Ringwald and her privileged warmth; and, of course, Nelson’s teasing, alarming, utterly confident stare.

Five teens bare their souls in The Breakfast Club (1985)

For some, the kids may be too anti-authoritarian, or the humor too crude, or the film too sappy. But, for me, Hughes hits just one sour note (spoilers follow). In the final minutes of the film, Ally Sheedy’s Allison gets a makeup makeover from Claire; her dandruffy, Gothic strangeness dissolves into smiley lipstick gloss. She walks over to Estevez’s Andrew (who’s only talked with her briefly during the film) and he’s blown away, completely speechless. Kudos to Hughes for not predictably coupling up Estevez and Ringwald, but this spur-of-the-moment scene is at best a last-minute stretch, and at worst a way of telling teen girls: you’re not pretty if you don’t look like everyone else.

Everything great about The Breakfast Club (the cast, the dialogue, the humor, the heart) reaches a deeply poignant, but hysterically funny, high during the soul-bearing finale, as the five kids admit their reasons for getting detention. It’s a scene of heartbreaking confessions, but also riotously vulgar humor, and the actors improvised it!

Mathew Broderick crashes a parade in Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1985)The unpredictable comedy and honest emotion of The Breakfast Club is sorely missing from John Hughes’ cutesy, meaningless 1986 comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. How has this shallow, trivial, largely not-as-funny-as-it-thinks-it-is film achieved “modern classic” status? If you haven’t seen the film in a while, you may be questioning me. But the memories of over-nostalgic Gen-Xers shouldn’t cloud judgement of a film. A movie should be critiqued based on how it holds up today. By those standards, why are we even talking about Ferris Bueller?

“Bueller…Bueller…Bueller?” a dull high school teacher asks in a monotone voice. But Ferris Bueller is, of course, is sick. Well, not really sick. He’s tricked his doting, rich parents into letting him stay home for the day. And what a day he’s planned… After he picks up his troubled best friend Cameron and loving girlfriend Sloane, the trio embark on a series of wealthy adventures: speeding around in the pristine Ferrari of Cameron’s father; visiting a museum of fine art; eating at the fanciest restaurant in town; crashing a downtown parade; and evading the school’s scheming principal, Edward Rooney.

Honestly, the stakes couldn’t be lower, the characters couldn’t be simpler, and the story couldn’t be more banal, obvious, and unexciting. While The Breakfast Club was something of a social commentary on the American teenager, Hughes doesn’t seem to have anything to say here, except “Enjoy life, do expensive things, and avoid anything remotely difficult or demanding.”

The movie coasts by on Mathew Broderick’s assured, nonchalant charm. He’s completely convincing as Ferris: careless, likable, slightly irritating. His fourth-wall smashing monologues are the apotheosis of his slacker-king cool. The rest of the cast makes little impact, though they’re given broadly-drawn, one-note cliches to play.

Amidst the mildly worrying materialistic morals, there are moments of sheer, weightless joy. The showstopping parade musical number, during which Ferris lypsyncs to “Danke Schoën” and “Twist and Shout” may be the film’s peak. It’s meaningless, but good fun.

Ferris and his friends in Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1985)That’s the difference between Ferris and Breakfast Club. With the former, Hughes wants to do nothing but entertain us, and fails. But with the latter, he meshed comedy with drama, social commentary with character study, populist fun and frankly-stated big ideas. I’m looking forward to spending a little more time with his films.

The Summer So Far Part 2: Even Farther

Posted on | July 11, 2013 | Add Comments

Johnny Depp and Arnie Hammer in The Lone Ranger (2013)I had a lot of fun writing my triple movie summer report (read it here, if you haven’t already!). Now, the sequel to that article has arrived: a double film review. You can expect at least one more of these before summertime’s up but until then enjoy my thoughts on Pixar’s new family comedy Monster’s University and Disney’s epic new fantasy western The Lone Ranger.

The Oozma Kappa team in Monsters University (2013)First up, lets head to college! Following the dismal Cars 2 and the mediocre Brave, I was hoping for a grand Pixar comeback in the old tradition with their new prequel, Monsters University. And, the comeback is an entertaining one, despite not being as sublimely perfect as previous classics like Walle, Up, and the Toy Story trilogy.

The plot is nothing new: two guys (I mean monsters) who hate each other become best friends amidst exciting adventures and pop culture references. We’ve seen variations of this in Finding Nemo, Cars, Up, and the original Toy Story just to name a few. Even Ratatouille (which starred a rat!) featured the storyline. The spin, on Pixar’s sub genre of mismatched animated buddy comedies, is that Mike and Sulley are off to Monsters University college. The film is a prequel and replaces John Goodman’s Sulley with Billy Crystal’s Mike for main character spot. The pair learn to be friends while participating in a Scare Games Contest with loser fraternity team Oozma Kappa. Will they be able to help out Oozma, win the Games, and become friends? We know all the answers but the ride is fun.

The script doesn’t have the multi-layered depth that Pixar normally brings to the table but there are still hilarious sequences (a swearing in ceremony gone wrong and the first Scare Game). Debut director Dan Scanlon doesn’t have the “Pixar touch” that John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Brad Bird do, but he still knows how to impress audiences with crackling humor, detailed animation, and rousing action.

As usual, the animation is top notch. The most visually striking element is the diversity of the new characters, whether major or minor. And of course, there’s a few delicately subtle in jokes that fans of the original Monsters Inc. will love.

I’m sounding a little harsh on the film but I actually loved it; it’s got everything you want in a family film! The story is a bit simplistic and a few characters are a bit underdeveloped but it’s plenty enjoyable nonetheless. Will it live on to be a classic? Not as much as something like Up will. But if you enjoyed Monsters Inc., you’ll enjoy this. It may be lacking a bit of magic, but it’s still a delightful blast.

Johnny DEpp as Tonto in The Lone Ranger (2013)Next…To the west!!!  Hi-Ho Silver! The Lone Ranger is back…Albeit more bloated, bloody, and blockbusterized than you might have remembered it. But, nonetheless, it’s back! And, oh kemosabe, what a deliriously ridiculous mess it is.

The story is fairly simple: John Reid goes from mundane lawman to masked avenger as he tries to find and kill the men who killed his brother. Along the way he gets help from the mysteriously strange Tonto.

The director, producer, screenwriters, composer, and star (Johnny Depp) of the vastly successful Pirates of the Caribbean franchise have reunited for a total reboot of the old Lone Ranger radio series and TV show. They’ve scrapped most of what made the Lone Ranger the Lone Ranger. They’ve traded in family friendly Saturday morning entertainment for bloody battles, physical comedy, new villains, and a slightly altered plot. But the most substantial change here concerns the character Tonto. The always in danger throwaway sidekick has been promoted to main character status with the help of Johnny Depp.

A big shock here is the performances, which are rather good. The always great Depp is hilarious and suitably kooky (or should I say all out crazy?). But Tonto isn’t nearly as interesting as Jack Sparrow and when you compare the jokes of Pirates to Lone Ranger, this seems like a serious drama. The title character is played by Arnie Hammer who surprises with a fine turn. I was expecting him to be bland and boring but he actually isn’t bad. The rest of the cast suffers from an over abundance of characters but the supporting ensemble is okay, though not particularly memorable.

Sometimes you can’t help but wonder if two different versions of the script got mixed up and put in the same pile. That would definitely explain two things: tone mix-ups and the length.

The main people at fault here are the screenwriters of which there were four. They should have definitely cut out half the script. Things to snip? Some excessively gorey moments, way too long action scenes, the flashback framing device, and Helena Bonham Carter and her leg. At 2 1/2 hours, watching the movie actually felt like work: your mission objective for today is to try to sit through this movie!

The other major mistake is the wild shifts of tone. The movie is trying to be a family action comedy but slips into areas of bloodshed filled thriller, romantic old town drama, black comedy, and even bizarro experimental western. If the film makers could’ve stuck to ONE goal the film would have been breezy entertainment instead of drawn out boring.

Is there anything good about this movie? Yes! It doesn’t fail because of the all action-no story trap that most blockbusters fall into. No, there’s something much more intriguing going on here. It’s not a particularly good movie but I’m definitely glad I saw it. As previously mentioned, the leads are appealing. On top of that, the effects are sometimes dazzling, the action scenes occasionally thrilling, and the musical score consistently heart thumping!

As for director Gore Verinski…well he proves he just needs to rein in his vision a bit more. Th screenwriters, editors, and Disney executives are the real issue, though. I also feel that Verbinski might’ve been a bit stressed by the ballooning budget, Johnny Depp’s could have been fatal horse accident, the tragic death of a crew member, and a release date that was moved three times (a record?). It also seems the film might not have stuck to his original vision. The man seems like a savvy director. Next time, he should make an action movie by himself and then sell it to a studio.

The most fascinating movie debacle of the year, The Lone Ranger is a frequently too violent, often overlong, sometimes fun, occasionally genius, and always interesting summer movie. If only Helena Bonham Carter could’ve used her leg to blow up half the running time…

Mike Wasikowski voiced by Billy Crystal in Monsters University (2013)So far it’s an iffy summer for the movies, with only two out of five films I’ve seen being ones I could honestly recommend. More on the summer later but first: the Chatham Orpheum Theater and Jaws.

TIFF Escalating!

Posted on | April 18, 2013 | Add Comments

What? “TIFF Escalating?” Flick and Flack have put a spin on the usual video reviews you’ve come accustomed to. Here’s the catch: As we review the films, we are both standing on the TIFF escalators. As they elevate us to the next level, we review the film we’ve just seen in approximately a minute a.k.a the time it takes for us to travel up the escalator. It may dizzy you just a bit, but it does give us an opportunity to zip through our reviews at a startling pace.

Watch ’em all here on Vimeo. TIFF (and us!) just got escalated to a whole new level!

Jack and Oz: Which is the Fairest of Them All? (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | March 22, 2013 | Add Comments

The heroes prepare for battle in Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)
Oz the Great and Powerful. Jack the Giant Slayer. Two fantasy epics based on classic stories. But which is the fairest of them all? Read on to find out…

Let’s start with Jack the Giant Slayer, a thrilling, adventure with a few issues. The film takes the viewer on an epic journey through medieval lands full of swashbuckling, revolting giants, and a damsel in distress. You know the tale; a boy named Jack takes sells his horse for magic beans, climbs a beanstalk, and slays a giant. Oh, hold on minute. You don’t know Jack. In this version there’s a princess who needs to be rescued (and married), lots of characters who need to be introduced (and get in a good sword fight), and an uncountable amount of  loathsomely grusume mo-cap madness creatures that need to be killed. What’s that loathsome stuff, you say? Giants. Nasty ones.

One ugly giant in Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)

I may be sounding rather harsh on the film, but I did enjoy it. Sure there’s flaws. Some characters are under-developed (a sidekick character, Stanley Tucci’s Roderick) and some scenes are overlong. In fact, I didn’t even tell you about the mini plot holes. But what’s great about the movie? First of all, the actors. Many critics have noted that Nicolas Hoult, who plays Jack, has a bland quality. But to tell you the truth he actually turns in a perfectly solid performance (the best character) opposite the also strong Eleanor Tomlinson.

Bryan Singer does a mediocre job as director, with all his emphasis on battle. He maybe should have focused a tiny bit more on the characters (which are, at least, better than some movies). While I am complaining about the battle sequences, for what they are…well they’re extremely epic. The CG, actors, direction, the battle choreography. The climax is a terrifically executed lesson in crafting a big movie battle. Except there’s one issue. While there’s lots of explosions, flaming trees, and bows ‘n arrows I would’ve enjoyed a bit more classic sword fighting, which we only get a little of.

Throw in some giantly fantastic special effects, grand old sword fighting (though too short), and enough battle spectacle to make most critics angry and you’ve got a film that will suffice the needs of an action film seeking moviegoer. You want a highly exciting, though fairly flawed, candy bag of fairy tale fun? You got it!

Welcome to Oz!

Now onto Oz. I have to say it: I had LOW expectations for this Hollywood gamble. I thought it would be an un-pretty shameful cash in-rip off that would make fans off the original want to skip back down that yellow brick road and all the way back to 1939. Anyway, Oz turned out just fine. First off there is a very pretty opening credits sequence and an amazing old fashioned B&W homage of a half hour opener. And then we are quite literally whisked off into THAT magical land. We are treated to mind-rattling visuals and terrific Ozian back story.

The script is a mixed bag filled with bland lines-and witty ones. The story is great and filled with morals and monsters. The final scene is heartfelt and the best of the film. I wouldn’t be surprised if some viewers cry. A fine mix of the excitement and emotion.

Onto the cast. Well they’re incredible. Each and every lead actor fills their role excitement and surprise. As Oz, James Franco creates a character of magic, wonder, and necessary annoyance. Meanwhile the three witches turn in incredible performances. Rachel Weisz is okay in a small role as Evanora the Bad while Michelle Williams plays Glinda the Good without falling into the goody two shoes character trap. But the one with the best performance is easily Mila Kunis (as Theodora the Good). Not only does she do a great job playing an easily fooled character, she also gets the spotlight in a great scene: a mid-way shocker that turns the story on it’s head with astonishment not seen in motion pictures of late. Too bad a review spoiled it for me (don’t read critic’s reviews of the movie because they’re filled with spoilers…except for mine of course!). As for the Franco’s two companions…well Zach Braff’s lovable and hilarious monkey completely outshines the sappy, predictable china doll played by Joey King. Why? A line about bananas.

Director Sam Raimi bests his work on the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man trilogy by combining laughs, thrills, fun, and creativity to create an amazing movie. The special effects are also incredible and surprisingly original. There’s bubbles, smoke, a monkey, a lion, and more to gasp at.

There are some things that don’t happen in the film that you think would. Why? Because they have to tell the story in a way that makes sense compared to the new film. I might’ve preferred one big battle sequence though  that wasn’t really possible considering the “good people of Oz” are NOT allowed to kill. Besides, it might have distracted from the story.

James Franco as Oz and Mila Kunis as Theodora escape trouble in Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

The second time (yes, that’s right!) I saw the film in 3-D. If you’re a 3-D fanatic you’ll like it but if you’re opposed to the added dimension this won’t win you ever. In other words, it doesn’t miraculously enhance the movie but gives a bit more excitement. Sadly there’s only one moment that made me duck and that was near the end of the film.

Jack the Giant Slayer is rated PG-13. Anyone who’s older than 11 should be okay but there’s a bit of romance and LOTS of intense, gross (but never bloody) giant fights. Oz the Great and Powerful is rated PG. Anyone who’s over 9 should be fine but there’s lots of romance involving the wizard (he kisses four characters) and some frightening scenes. However, there’s no blood and little battle sequences.

The Fairest of Them All: Oz: The Great and Powerful beats Jack the Giant Slayer. Oz and Jack are filled with wonderful action, special effects, actors, and direction. Both are great films but Oz has a better story. And in the end, that’s what matters.

Oz the Great and Powerful and Jack the Giant Slayer (Flick’s Double Review)

Posted on | March 15, 2013 | 1 Comment

On March 1st, Jack the Giant Slayer, a Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, X-Men, X2, Superman Returns) directed fantasy, hit theaters. On March 8th, Oz the Great and Powerful, a Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, The Spider-Man Trilogy) film, hit theaters. Instead of reviewing one at a time, I’ve decided to do a double review because both of the films have a few things in common. The question? Who succeeded: Singer or Raimi? Which film is the m0re enjoyable March blockbuster? Read on to find out which film is this month’s better film. First? Up the beanstalk we go!

Jack the Giant Slayer

3 1/2 stars

Jack, “a simple farm boy”, receives some magic beans from a monk and after getting them wet, beanstalks are grown…And giants are reborn. He embarks on a journey to save a princess, show his courage, and battle some massive meanies.

I was expecting little. I got more than I bargained for. To tell you the truth, I bargained for almost nothing. But, what I got was an entertaining film, flawed, yes, but still enjoyable enough to last most of it’s 115 minute running time. I’ll begin with the actors.

Many critics disliked Nicholas Hoult who has the lead role as Jack. Personally, I didn’t adore him, but I found he was…Let’s just say he’s better than James Franco. Eleanor Tomlinson is just okay, so is Stanley Tucci as buck-toothed villain, Roderick. But the best work comes from Ewan McGregor as the dashing Elmont. He displays what the film could have used a little more of: cleverness.

The effects? The giants are superbly animated and they look as disgusting and gruesome as intended on the big screen. Plus, the beanstalk’s writhing madness is a joy to watch. There are also some grand-scale action scenes that, if long, are fun.

The 3-D is not worth wasting your money on. There are under five pop-out moments that catch your attention. The best being when a giant barrels through a stone floor and when beanstalks grow into your face.

I’ve discussed the pleasures, but it’s not all great. Too many jokes fall flat. Too many battles drag. Too many characters die without any heartfelt emotions. (It does become a “Let’s pluck ’em off one by one!” type thing after a while, so couldn’t they have done it in a meaningful way?) One moment there’s a booger joke, the next a gross-out eyeball squishing. Who is this for? That’s what Singer should’ve decided before tackling the giants. Maybe next time.

My favorite character is Elmont because of his ’30s type action heroes qualities. His charisma and humor drags the film along when it starts to lag from an overlong fight.

My favorite scene is when Jack and Isabelle are hiding from the giant, General Fallon, because if the rest of the film’s action was as uniquely staged, this would have been all of the more worthwhile. This is the kind of scene the film needed!

Jack the Giant Slayer is rated PG-13 and I agree. There are some scary moments that could give little kiddies nightmares. But, there are also the rude humor gags that’ll keep the giggles flowing.

A good bit of amusement, yet lacking real substance. Not enough to last generations of enduring fans.

Oz the Great and Powerful

4 stars

How did the Wonderful Wizard of Oz become, well, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz? After being wiped into the cyclone, Oz finds himself in a land named Oz. He encounters three witches and learns that before he can become the wizard, he must kill the wicked witch.

Wow. Similar to Jack the Giant Slayer, I wasn’t expecting much, but I got quite a bit. Sam Raimi did a fine job with Spider-Man and a great job with Spider-Man 2. But after Spider-Man 3, I wasn’t so pumped for his next venture, let alone a stab at re-imagining the world before the classic The Wizard of Oz. Yet here is an adventure that is fun, yet filled with thrills and an abundance of chills.

After a very enjoyable title credit sequence, I was excited. After the twenty minute B&W beginning, I was ready for it. After a fantastical first meeting in Oz, I was thrilled. The film continues to throw dazzling CG wonder after dazzling CG wonder. There is also real emotion; one scene that introduces China Girl, a young doll, who has been, as not not to give it away I’ll paraphrase, hurt. Raimi doesn’t throw in an action scene right away, to rush the scene off and keep the kids satisfied, he slowly paces a heartfelt moment.

The acting is very good from all three witches. Of course, we know which two will die, but there’s still fun to be had with their delightful acting. Michelle Williams is Glinda and she includes all of the likable qualities that are required for the part. Mila Kunis is Theodora. (I have to be careful now because I’m treading on spoiler water.) The character is much more interesting than first meets the eye: she starts off dancing with Oz and then…GO WATCH THE MOVIE!!! Rachel Weisz is Eveanora, another witch that is sooo very much more fascinating than you might first suspect. It’s not just the characters though, it’s the actresses. Even Mila Kunis who had been in a bunch of raunchy blockbusters before this, is great. Zach Braff is also funny as the voice of Finley, a nice flying monkey. (Don’t panic: there are plenty of vicious baboons!) But guess who’s not so memorable?

Franco. After the Oscars, there wasn’t much hope for him. But, in the back of my mind I kept hoping that maybe because he was working with his Spider Man Trilogy director, some magic would be conjured. Alas, no. He falls short in many emotional scenes when the heavy burden of the entire film is on him. Joey King is fine as China Girl, the animated doll, but whenever her sassiness was supposed to be funny, she fell flat.

The movie, amazingly still worked for me. And trust me, you won’t mind swirling into the cyclone one more time with a talented director like Raimi at the helm.

My favorite character is Eveanora because I think Weisz was the best actor in the film. She captured the many sides of her witch.

My favorite scene is when Oz crashes into Oz because the visuals are so amazing. It’s a great way to be reintroduced, after being away from the land for seventy-four years.

Oz the Great and Powerful is rated PG and I agree. There are some scary endings to a few characters, but if you can watch the original, this isn’t too much worse.

Action, emotion, wonderful witches. It’s all there and it’s all so good. If you get past Franco, you’re in for a good ride.

The Winner: Oz the Great and Powerful