Saturday, August 25, 2012

Easy A

Year 4, Day 238 - 8/25/12 - Movie #1,228

BEFORE: I've got one last chance to make this back-to-school week relevant again, you know, by concentrating on things that actually happen in class.  These troubled teens just never seem to go to class, and they're always hanging around in graveyards, insane asylums and chess tournaments.  Back in my day, I guess we weren't cool because we went to class 5 times a week.

Linking tonight is positively simple - Tony Shalhoub from "Searching for Bobby Fischer" was also in that fantastic film about an Italian restaurant, "Big Night", with Stanley Tucci (last seen in "Captain America: The First Avenger").  I've spent the better part of a week trying to get "The Terminal", also starring Stanley Tucci, burned on to a DVD - my first recording of it was glitchy (the DVR was still freezing up), the 2nd recording had bad sound (I used the wrong VCR), and my 3rd recording would not burn to a DVD because it appears that Time Warner Cable found a way to put a signal through my new DVR that prevents duplication of movies from the premium channels - which is terrible news for this blog, if I can't burn my movies to DVD, how can I watch them?  Fortunately the other, older DVR, is still putting out a signal that my DVD recorder will work with - but it's still super annoying.

THE PLOT: A clean-cut high school student relies on the school's rumor mill to advance her social and financial standing.

AFTER:  This is a well-intentioned update of "The Scarlet Letter", at least in some respects.  That book comprises the story-within-the-story here, since the characters are reading it in English class.  (OK, some of them are reading it, others are just watching the Demi Moore movie - haven't the kids today heard about Cliff Notes?)  But the movie commits a few cardinal sins of its own in trying to update a classic storyline with a modern-day setting.  

For starters, the backdrop of a typical modern public high-school makes no sense, if they want to make a point about an overly puritanical society.  At the same time, the film points out that the social status of the kids depends on their sexual experience - so, which is it?  Is everyone conservative and judgmental, or a bunch of randy horndogs?  OK, I know that in real life people can be a mixture of both, but in a film you've got to have clear characters, and the portrayal of the student body here appears to be in constant contradiction.  The film might have had more bite if it were set in a Catholic high-school - but that's been done before, and better, in a film called "Saved".

Secondly, a film can't reference what's been done before in bad, cheezy movies, calling those movies out for being bad and cheezy, and then do EXACTLY that same thing, that's a no-no.  It worked in "Strange Brew", when a character didn't look at the road while driving and simultaneously point out that in movies, characters don't often look at the road while driving - but that was done farcically.  In most cases the intentional breaking of the fourth wall is not encouraged - and if done poorly, it can shatter the beliefs of the audience and call the whole film into question.  In a film where the acting is so marginal that I was often super-aware I was watching actors reading lines (another no-no), they shouldn't be doing anything close to dramatic irony (the term for a film referencing that it is, in fact, a film).

It happened several times - the teacher rapping, and then pointing out that you only see that in bad movies, plus the many references to classic 80's teen comedies, and wishing life could be more like that.  You didn't see Ferris Bueller talk about how cheezy lip-synching movie musical numbers are before he did one, because that would be too self-referencial, even for him, and he talked straight to camera and got away with it.  That said, the use of web-cam confessionals here was a very clever way to break the fourth wall and still maintain the illusion - the main character seems to be addressing the audience directly, but she's really speaking to classmates via the internets.  (wait, or is it the other way around?)  

I love my Mom and Dad dearly, and I feel I learned just as much from them as I did from school.  But I never got anything close to "the talk" from them.  I think they figured I'd pick everything up from books and movies, which I did by default.  The parents portrayed here are SO down with their teen, and so sexually frank - it's another glaring reminder that we're watching a piece of fiction.  No parents are really that cool, right?  If they are, I may want a life do-over where my parents are played by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, or reasonable facsimiles.

So, what did I learn about school this week?  Mostly that being a teen still sucks, especially if you get labelled as one of the unpopular people, or can talk to the dead or something.  I've also seen quite a few bullies portrayed this week, and bullying is a hot topic, so let me address the (semi-)recent "It Gets Better" campaign, which I feel sort of sugarcoats things, and doesn't go far enough in telling teens how to handle their dark moments.  Teens, this is your Uncle Honky talking, and you know I'd never lie to you, so let me assure you - if you're having a rough go at things, it does get better.  Then it gets worse again, but after that you can coast on people's sympathy for like, a solid two years.  Then it truly gets better, but it's only temporary because the economy's going to crash or the power grid's going to go or something - totally not your fault.  Then it gets better again, because let's face it, you're probably comfortable with who you are by that point, and most people will be cool with it too.  But there's a bit RIGHT at the end that's probably really going to suck ass, and then nothing.  Whoops, was that a little too honest?  Never mind, go do your algebra homework.

I've had a few friends recommend the film "Mean Girls", after they found out I was watching school-based films.  But, I don't have a copy of that film, and I don't have a slot left in the year to watch it anyway - so I'll have to circle back and do a Follow-Up next year.  I'm going in a different direction tomorrow.

Also starring Emma Stone (last seen in "Friends With Benefits"), Patricia Clarkson (ditto), Amanda Bynes (last seen in "Hairspray"), Thomas Haden Church (last seen in "3000 Miles to Graceland"), Lisa Kudrow (last seen in "The Other Woman"), Penn Badgley, Dan Byrd, Aly Michalka, with cameos from Malcolm McDowell (last seen in "The Book of Eli"), Fred Armisen (last seen in "Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore").

RATING: 5 out of 10 text messages

Friday, August 24, 2012

Searching for Bobby Fischer

Year 4, Day 237 - 8/24/12 - Movie #1,227

BEFORE: I sort of have the feeling that I half-saw this one once before, or maybe I'm confusing it with "Little Man Tate".  Damn, I hate that sort of uncertainty - I've made it this far without accidentally counting a film that I've seen before, I'd hate to do it now.  This one will wrap up the "screwed-up young boys" chain, I think.  Linking from "It's Kind of a Funny Story", I'm lucky once again, since Emma Roberts was also in "Valentine's Day" with Joe Mantegna (last heard in "Cars 2").

THE PLOT: A prepubescent chess prodigy refuses to harden himself in order to become a champion like the famous but unlikable Bobby Fischer.

AFTER: Well, if I had seen this film before, I'd forgotten all of the pertinent details, so that's really the same as not having seen it, right?  I certainly can't name the time nor place - still, if there's any uncertainty about a film, I wonder if I should strike it from the list, or watch it over the holiday break.

Anyway, tonight we've got an awkward kid (aren't they all?) who's brilliant at playing chess, and whose playing style evokes that of Bobby Fischer, the former world champion who notably declined to defend his title and became a recluse.  After living in exile and making some anti-American and anti-Israeli statements, he sought asylum in Japan and Iceland - and for some people (OK, me), his story proves the fine line between genius and madness.

Fischer is more than name-checked here, the main character knows all about Fischer's life - but is he trying to emulate him, or is he trying to avoid becoming him?  This is also about the pressures on kids these days, to succeed, to get into the right prep school, and by extension to write the best essay and get into the best college (and I saw last night where that all ends up - in the looney bin).  And for parents, there's a fine line between encouraging a kid's hobby and making it the focus of their lives.  By all means, if a kid excels at something, his or her endeavors should be promoted, but a kid also needs balance, and downtime just to be a kid.

I used to be pretty good at chess, and tricks like solving a Rubik's Cube quickly (kids, ask your parents...) and my mother even brought me to one of those summer academies where they offered college-level courses on topics like logic, probability and radio broadcasting.  And some of those courses probably helped shaped the career I have, and made me the person I am  (plus, I'm sure my mother was ecstatic that I wasn't playing sports and risking serious kickball injuries).  But it got to a point where I'd reached a plateau of sorts - I was enrolled in a summer course at M.I.T. to learn some computer language called Pascal (again, kids - ask your parents).  After one class I realized I was in way over my head, and had to come clean.  My mom and dad heard what I said, and they didn't make me go back - which was for the best, because I don't think that computer language survived anyway.

I know someone who travels with his teenage daughter so she can participate in equestrian events - I imagine she's good at it, otherwise I don't see the point.  Again I'm of two minds here, because where do you draw the line between being an encouraging parent, and being one of those ogres that you see on "Toddlers & Tiaras"?  I guess you just have to play it by ear - but if I ever became an overbearing stage dad, I'd hope one of my friends would have justification to shoot me in the head.  I'm aware of another kid, who can't be more than 12, who's gaining some notoriety as an animator.  I'm sure he's got the skills and all, but I'm also aware that his biggest supporter (and publicist) is his mother.  Sure, I expect a mother to be supportive and encouraging, but not to the point of ridiculousness.  I'm guessing the kid would rather just go outside and kick a ball around, or stay in and read a comic book, than be holed up in a studio over a computer working out walk cycles.  There'll be plenty of time for that later.

Anyway, back to Bobby Fischer.  Has anyone prominent ever removed themselves from contention like he has?  Or gone out on top, if you want to look at it another way?  Viewed from the right POV, it almost seems like a brilliant move - if you reach a pinnacle, win a championship, achieve some goal, to just quit while you're ahead.  Imagine if Michelangelo quit sculpting right after the Pieta, or if some sports team just folded up and quit after winning a championship.  But now, our culture, particularly sports culture, is all about threepeating and creating dynasties - what a bunch of greedy bastards we all are.

Actually, child actors are a great metaphor for what I'm talking about - even though some of them probably have overbearing stage parents.  But the truth is, some of them peak at the age of 5 or 7, when they're quite cute, and then by the time they're teenagers, and not so cute any more, their careers are essentially over.  Could you handle having your greatest success before high school?  Or being told at the age of 12 that your looks have faded?  What was that like for Mason Reese, Rodney Allen Rippy, Peter Billingsley, etc.?  (one last time - kids, ask your parents)

There's my new goal - when I'm done with the movie project, to succeed at something beyond the daily grind of doing my job.  Write that screenplay, do it well, be all that I can be - and if it goes well, and I'm happy with it?  I promise to never write another one.  Because that's where madness starts - people always reaching beyond their abilities, or wondering why they can't pitch another perfect game, or fill those rock concert seats the way they used to, or whatever.  I think maybe more people should succeed at something, and then just walk away.  Go out on top, leave 'em wondering.

NITPICK POINT: The prominent chess tutor in this film states that he doesn't want his protege playing speed chess in the park.  Why?  This was not properly explained to my satisfaction.  The games of chess in the park are timed, and so are the tournament matches - and the goal in both games is to win, according to the exact same rules.  What, exactly, is the problem with playing speed chess, what bad habits will a player learn by doing this?  I know there must be a distinction, but I'm guessing that to the vast majority of the audience, both games look exactly the same.  The only difference I'm aware of is that decisions need to be made faster in speed chess, but that's a skill that can only help in tournament play, no? 

Also starring Max Pomeranc, Ben Kingsley (last seen in "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time"), Laurence Fishburne (last seen in "The Cotton Club"), Joan Allen (last seen in "Nixon"), David Paymer (last seen in "Bad Teacher"), with cameos from Dan Hedaya (also last seen in "Nixon"), William H. Macy (last seen in "Seabiscuit"), Laura Linney (last seen in "The Mothman Prophecies"), Tony Shalhoub (last seen in "Life or Something Like It"), Josh Mostel (last seen in "Sophie's Choice"), Austin Pendleton.

RATING: 6 out of 10 queen sacrifices

Thursday, August 23, 2012

It's Kind of a Funny Story

Year 4, Day 236 - 8/23/12 - Movie #1,226

BEFORE: An animated film was a nice diversion, now it's back to live-action films detailing with the mental health of teen boys.   Linking from "ParaNorman", Anna Kendrick was also in "Up in the Air", with Zach Galifianakis (last seen in "Due Date"), who I think has a larger role in tonight's film than he did in that one.

THE PLOT: A clinically depressed teenager gets a new start after he checks himself into an adult psychiatric ward.

AFTER: You can see why I initially scheduled this one to follow "Running With Scissors", which was the story of a confused and depressed teen, based on the memoir of Augusten Burroughs.  This one's about a stressed and depressed teen, based on a book by Ned Vizzini, who started writing for the New York Press in his teens.  I remember reading some of his columns back when that paper was worth reading, before the Onion invaded New York.

In both cases we can assume the stories are at least semi-autobiographical - there's such a fine line between fiction and non-fiction these days anyway.  I avoid most books that aren't about Star Wars or time travel, because I figure the better ones will get turned into movies, and then when I see those movies, I won't be complaining about how they left out the best parts of the books.

Anyway, this is a spin on your typical teen angst drama since it plays out in a NYC psychiatric hospital, after the main character checks himself in because of suicidal thoughts.  The pressure to succeed in the NYC school system, heck, in any school system, is a very real thing.  I'm not so far removed from the stresses of high school that I can't remember them - but then again, school work usually came easy to me, especially when it came time for those standardized tests.  I just treated them all like puzzles that needed to be solved, and I love puzzles.

But even though I sympathize, there are parts of me that can't believe how good today's kids have it, with the smart phones and the 128-bit video games and the internet.  Jeez, I had to ride my bike to the library if I wanted to look something up, or check out a book - but you kids just Google it on your smartphones or download the book to your Kindle.  My first video-game system played 8 games, 6 of which were variants of Pong.  And porn?  Forget about it - we had to try and sneak a peek at a Playboy at the newstand.  So what do today's kids have to be depressed about?

I'm the one who should be depressed - think about how old that last paragraph made me feel!  Kid, come talk to me when you're in your 40's and you've got a mortgage and a dead-end job and your knees are starting to wear out.  And you're always tired because you stay up too late watching movies about depressed teens. 

There's a bit of sugar-coating here, since the movie never really gets into WHY some of the inmates are there - they just conveniently don't want to talk about it.  I can see that some of those reasons, particularly dealing with abuse, might drag the film down, but without getting into the nuts and bolts of it all, it seems like there are some pretty big gaps in their stories.  By ignoring some of the darker reasons some people might be in a mental ward, it almost makes it feel like a fun place to relax and get away from it all, which I'm sure it's probably not.

The ending might have been genuine, but it was also pretty hokey.  "Live"?  That's the message?  Yeah, I was planning on doing just that.  I prefer the message that was sort of suggested earlier in the movie, which is to say that life sucks sometimes, but it beats the alternative.  And if you check out early, well, then you lose any chance of making it better. 

Also starring Keir Gilchrist (last seen in "The Rocker"), Emma Roberts (last seen in "Nancy Drew"), Viola Davis (last seen in "Out of Sight"), Jeremy Davies (last seen in "Nell"), Lauren Graham (last heard in "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs"), Jim Gaffigan (last seen in "Away We Go"), Zoe Kravitz (last seen in "X-Men: First Class"), with cameos from Aasif Mandvi, Mary Birdsong.

RATING: 6 out of 10 flirt-punches

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Year 4, Day 234 - 8/21/12 - Movie #1,225

BEFORE:  This was a little unexpected, I had to work a promotional event for the animation company that made this one, and my boss took me to the movies before-hand, in case any questions about the film came up during the event.  Part of my daily gig involves taking advertising people out to the movies or to parties, in the hopes of landing the company more commercial work.  Mostly I work the door and make sure only the people on the list get in.   So, full disclosure: I've done a lot of work for Laika, the animation company behind this one, so the fix is in tonight.

This meant I saw two movies on Tuesday, so I'm going to give myself Wednesday off.  This also means I've got to bump one of the films left on the 2012 schedule into next year, so as not to affect the round-the-world trip.  I've built some flexibility into the line-up, so there's still a chance of adding or taking away from the list before the journey starts.  And I've got to scramble to find an acting link - how about Annette Bening from "Running with Scissors" also appearing in "What Planet Are You From?" with John Goodman (last heard in "The Princess and the Frog")?

THE PLOT: A misunderstood boy who can speak with the dead, takes on ghosts, zombies and grown-ups to save his town from a centuries-old curse.

AFTER: It looks like Halloween came early this year - I guess some distributor didn't want to compete with the upcoming films "Hotel Transylvania" and "Frankenweenie".   Still, this isn't very far off from this week's theme - which was supposed to be back-to-school, but instead ended up being teen boys who have trouble fitting in.  Norman, the main character here, fits right into that pocket, and the other high-school stereotypes (the fat kid, the bully, the jock) all follow suit as well.

But there's also a play on "The Sixth Sense" here as well, since Norman can see the spirits who haven't moved on to their eternal rest, because of unfinished business, or perhaps the gruesome way that they died.  Death is just a transition here, and also is a source of some comedy, but younger kids may not see the humor in dead people rising from their graves.  You can get away with a lot in animation, though, with limbs falling off and being re-attached - when the zombies are made of clay, they're less scary than the ones in other horror films, where "realism" is the goal (even though zombies aren't real, right? RIGHT?)

There are also some real subversive bits here, too, way outside the mainstream rules of the horror genre. Since Norman can talk to the dead, he's in a unique position to figure out what's going on, and how to stop it.  I can't name any horror film where someone decided to just reason with the scary zombies that were lumbering after them.  I can't also remember any time where the human mob with torches and pitchforks was proven to be more dangerous than the monsters they were pursuing.  That's a nod to the "Frankenstein" films, I'll wager.

Comparisons are probably going to be made to "Coraline", the studio's previous film, which had the good sense to be based on a book by Neil Gaiman.  This one's more action-oriented - it would be a bit too simple to say that "Coraline" was for girls and this one's for boys, but I can see more boys digging the zombies and ghosts and the chase sequences, where "Coraline" was more about secret rooms and dancing mice, sort of more girlie stuff.  Stereotypes are real time-savers, you know.

I don't go to the cinema that much, as you know.  And I certainly don't see a lot of movies in 3-D, either.  But stop-motion animation seems to be tailor-made for the process - the characters are already moving through three dimensions, so why not present them that way?  The floating ghosts and grabbing zombie hands looked great in 3-D, but so did static shots like the town square - to the point where I tended to forget I was watching a 3-D movie, because it all just came so natural.

Maybe there was a little too much focus on the rules of the engagement with the dark forces, and maybe some of the dialogue got a bit repetitive in places, but overall this was a lot of fun.  Not too scary, which is how I like my horror films, and not too touchy-feely in its attempt to battle evil.

Also starring the voices of Kodi Smit-McPhee (last seen in "The Road"), Anna Kendrick (last seen in "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World"), Casey Affleck (last seen in "Chasing Amy"), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (last heard in "Marmaduke"), Jeff Garlin (last heard in "Cars 2"), Leslie Mann (last seen in "Knocked Up"), Elaine Stritch (last seen in "Autumn in New York"), Tucker Albrizzi, Bernard Hill (I guess Bill Nighy wasn't available), Tempestt Bledsoe (I guess Wanda Sykes wasn't available either) and Alex Borstein.

RATING: 8 out of 10 spooky trees

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Running With Scissors

Year 4, Day 234 - 8/21/12 - Movie #1,224

BEFORE: As I expected, I'm experiencing topical drift - this was supposed to be back-to-school week, and it's become more about self-medicating teenagers with psychiatric problems.  And it looks like tonight's film fits right in with that.  The obvious linking between actors would be from Robert Downey Jr. to his "Iron Man" co-star, Gwyneth Paltrow (last seen in "The Avengers").

THE PLOT: The son of an alcoholic father and an unstable mother is handed off to his mother's therapist, Dr. Finch, and spends his adolescent years as a member of Finch's bizarre extended family.

AFTER: This one puts me in a weird position - since the film is based on a memoir, an author's actual life experiences, it's not for me to say what seems far-fetched or unbelievable.  I have to take the author's word that these events, or something close to them, happened.  I'm only left to judge whether said events make for an entertaining film.

Sadly, I'm not so sure.  The main character is a confused teen who lives with his eccentric mother, and is used to taking care of her.  No, wait, that was Charlie Bartlett in last night's film.  Tonight's main character is a confused teen who lives with his eccentric divorced mother for a while, and finds that she's too much to handle.  And this movie is set in the 1970's, so that's a whole different decade.

Also, the main focus of "Charlie Bartlett" was the main character's attempts to fit in at school - and this character hardly ever even goes to school - at least, we never see him there.  He sure doesn't seem interested in attending class, or trying to learn anything there.  Stay in school, kids, or you'll end up being raised by your mom's psychiatrist in a house full of his eccentric family members and other various hangers-on.

The director of this film, Ryan Murphy, also created the shows "Nip/Tuck" and "Glee", and this film came off as sort of a weird synthesis of the two - not that I've watched either show regularly, but I've slowed down to watch the interesting or salacious parts of both.  If you took the self-indulgent vain characters from "Nip/Tuck", along with some of the medical/drug topics, and mixed it with the confused but self-aware high-schoolers from "Glee", minus all the emoting and overdubbed singing, you might get something like this film. 

As always, your mileage may vary, and maybe you'll see something of yourself in Augusten's experiences here - but other than absorbing my own mother's neuroses, I didn't find much here that applied to my life in the 1970's and 80's.  I mean, I did split for New York when I was 17, only two years older than the main character here, but that was for college, not to become a writer.  Isn't it always a copout to have a main character who becomes a writer, and vows to write a book someday about his experiences - a book that will eventually become the film we're watching right NOW?  I guess maybe there could be an exception for memoirs, but screenplay-wise, it's pretty trite.

Also starring Joseph Cross (last seen in "Flags of Our Fathers"), Annette Bening (last seen in "The Kids Are All Right"), Alec Baldwin (last seen in "Mercury Rising"), Brian Cox (last seen in "For Love of the Game"), Evan Rachel Wood (last seen in "The Missing"), Jill Clayburgh (last seen in "Semi-Tough"), Joseph Fiennes (last seen in "Elizabeth"), Gabrielle Union (last seen in "Bad Boys II"), with cameos from Kristin Chenoweth (last seen in "Four Christmases"), Patrick Wilson (last seen in "The A-Team").

RATING: 4 out of 10 rejection letters

Monday, August 20, 2012

Charlie Bartlett

Year 4, Day 233 - 8/20/12 - Movie #1,223

BEFORE: My anger towards Time Warner Cable has abated somewhat, since they have issued me a credit equalling roughly one month's service, and the new DVR is behaving (so far).  But I feel like that's not enough somehow, considering how long my service has been buggy and freezing up, and all the work I had to do re-booting and swapping out the cable boxes.  Plus my job (not the blog, my paying gig) depends on me watching certain shows, so not having adequate service is a blow to my wallet in the long run.  On top of that, any hope of the company informing their customers of changes to their software which would almost definitely affect the performance of their hardware, or admitting that there are service problems systemwide?  Forget about it - it ain't gonna happen.  For quality of service, the company gets a big goose egg rating from me.

I've got to scramble now to get back some of the movies and shows I lost - again, more work on my part that really shouldn't be necessary.  I hope someday they'll invent some kind of system where you tell the cable box you want to see a particular movie, and then it records it for you, and then you get to watch it before it decides to erase it, and it plays back in good quality.  I know, I'm a dreamer.  But with luck maybe it might come to pass. 

What's worse, dealing with the cable company, or being a teenager?  Tonight I'm still in high-school, dealing with more delinquents and bad behavior.  Linking from "Bad Teacher", Justin Timberlake was in a film called "Alpha Dog" with tonight's star, Anton Yelchin (last seen in "New York, I Love You").

THE PLOT: A rich kid becomes the self-appointed psychiatrist to the student body of his new high school.

AFTER: Well, I've still got the same basic problem - a central character who does bad things.  But there's a key difference here, at least some of the bad things are done to help others in the school - giving kids medications without prescriptions is technically illegal, yes, but Charlie does it because he genuinely wants to help them. He also takes the time to listen to their problems, holding court each day in the men's room.  And, in a few cases, his advice is quite valid, and we do see that his words do help some of the kids and get them through a tough time (more commonly known as "high school").

OK, so he doesn't have a 100% success rate - what medical professional does?  And in some cases he does have an ulterior motive, namely getting accepted and liked in a new school.  Can you blame him for wanting that?  And then we've got that whole illegal drug thing - but today's kids are getting so doped up on ritalin anyway, in fact he might have even improved the attention span of a few of them.

My point is, the main character here is ten times more likable than the teacher played by Cameron Diaz in "Bad Teacher", who showed no remorse for her behavior, or any desire to play within the system.  Charlie subverts the system, but eventually realizes that prescriptions aren't the answer for everyone, butting heads with the principal is a losing game (at least for one of them), and that it might be better to work within the rules of the system to effect change.

Besides, if he crosses swords with the principal too many times, then he'll never get to score with his daughter.  Yes, in true Hollywood style the wheels of coincidence have arranged a doozy here, wouldn't you know the girl Charlie likes just happens to be the daughter of the principal.  My mother was a grade-school music teacher, and though I love her dearly, I'm kind of glad that she taught in a different town from where we lived and where I went to school.  It just makes things more difficult dealing with your classmates when you're the child of one of your teachers.

Then again, things weren't that easy for me in school either - I had few problems with the course-work, but I admit I was lacking in many of the necessary social skills.  I only had one close friend before junior-high, so in grade-school I was really low man on the totem pole.  Sure, I got picked on, but I figured I was mostly there to learn, so I focused on that.  One time I really engineered a creative solution to bullying similar to one seen in this film - a bunch of kids were hassling me and making it difficult to deliver newspapers on my paper route, so I contacted one of them and offered to buy his comic-book collection that he was looking to get rid of.  It was perhaps the best $40 I ever spent, because I did him a solid, and he and his buddies left me alone after that.  

Things got better in junior high and high-school - though I was still a dork, at least there were other dorky people to hang out with.  I watch these high-school films and I cringe at all that cliquey stuff, like worrying about who you should or shouldn't sit with at lunch or who was interested in dating who.  Talking to girls was mainly out of the question for me, let alone dating them.

God, the whole thing is really kind of awkward all around.  Why do we still put kids through this?  Viewed one way, this film is really a wish-fulfillment sort of story - don't all of us in our 40's wish we could go back to high school, knowing what we know now, and just really take charge of the place?  Then again, part of me is glad that I'll never have to go through all that again - I miss my friends and taking standardized tests, but that's about it.

But I'm not here to judge our country's educational system, I'm here to judge the film.  So I'm split again on this one, it has its charm and a few close-to-heartwarming moments, but it's still a depiction of youth out of control, and kids mostly not getting punished for their actions.  But then again, Ferris Bueller never really got his comeuppance either. 

Also starring Robert Downey Jr. (last seen in "Due Date"), Hope Davis (last seen in "About Schmidt"), Kat Dennings (last seen in "Thor"), Tyler Hilton (last seen as Elvis in "Walk the Line").

RATING: 5 out of 10 security cameras

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Bad Teacher

Year 4, Day 232 - 8/19/12 - Movie #1,222

BEFORE: My dispute with the god-forsaken, motherless humps at Time Warner Cable continued.  That's right, I'm saying in print that the company is no good.  Let them sue me for slander, in order to do that, they'll have to prove that their service works, which obviously they cannot do.  My picture's been freezing up for the last month, but today it decided to freeze up so bad that it erased everything on the DVR's hard drive. 

So, I resisted the urge to smash the DVR into little pieces, and brought it to a service center.  With at least 50 people ahead of me also swapping out their cable boxes, I am free to assume that the company knowingly downloaded new cable software to customers' DVRs that the boxes simply could not handle.  Either they failed to test the new software properly, or they are incapable of properly delivering an uninterrupted video signal to me.  Either way, I'm demanding satisfaction.

The only reason this company manages to stay in business is the fact that its customers do not communicate with each other, or people might band together and refuse to pay their bills.  The company will not issue me any type of credit until they resolve the problem, but then what is their motivation to actually solve the problem?  I'm one step away from using social media to organize a mob to storm Time Warner headquarters with torches and pitchforks.

Anyway, today's movie (previously recorded and transferred to DVD, back when I had cable service that wasn't buggy or freezing up) continues the teaching theme.  Linking actors, Whoopi Goldberg was also in "The Muppets" with Jason Segel (last seen uncredited in "Friends with Benefits").

THE PLOT: A foul-mouthed, junior high teacher, after being dumped by her sugar daddy, begins to woo a colleague -- a move that pits her against a well-loved teacher.

AFTER: No, I'm not really feeling this one, it just seemed like a pointless bunch of comedy.  The funny, or perhaps amusing is a better word, bits didn't seem to come together to form a coherent whole.

The issue seems to arise when so-called "bad" behavior is depicted.  The film "Bad Santa" had a similar problem.  What constitutes "bad"?  Being deceitful, sure, but then we have theft, fraud, causing physical or emotional harm to others, self-centered thinking, drinking/drugs and good old sexual debauchery.  The film can't seem to decide which ones to focus on, so it throws them all in for good measure.

The end result is a main character that I can't seem to feel any sympathy for - I wasn't rooting for her in any way.  To make matters worse, she never seems to learn any lessons, or decide to maybe treat people better, or try to be better in any way.  And I didn't find these situations particularly funny.  In fact, I would worry about someone who did.

It was also a huge tactical mistake to name-check a bunch of movies about teachers who actually DID work hard and DID inspire their students, like "Stand and Deliver" and "Lean On Me".  It's further proof that those were much better, more meaningful movies, and this one just isn't.  This movie says that it's OK to slack off and not help kids learn, and if a big standardized test comes up, just cheat.  And if you get caught cheating, no problem, just blackmail the people who are accusing you.  Don't worry about it, everybody does it.  There couldn't possibly be any repercussions for doing any of that.

Starring Cameron Diaz (last seen in "The Green Hornet"), Justin Timberlake (also last seen in "Friends With Benefits'), Lucy Punch (last seen in "Dinner for Schmucks"), John Michael Higgins (last seen in "Bicentennial Man"), Phyllis Smith, Thomas Lennon (last seen in "Hot Tub Time Machine"), with cameos from David Paymer (last seen in "Nixon"), Eric Stonestreet, Molly Shannon (last heard in "Igor"), Rick Overton (also last seen in "Dinner for Schmucks"), Nat Faxon (last seen in "The Slammin' Salmon"), Matt Besser.

RATING: 2 out of 10 gym classes