The First Time

First TimeThe very sweet teen romance written and directed by Jon Kasdan (son of filmmaker Lawrence Kasdan) is disarmingly honest, with characters that feel so real there isn’t the hint of artifice.  Centered around two teens who meet by accident, become friends, and each decide to give up their virginity to the other, this film will leave you with a warm, gooey feeling that makes it a worthwhile viewing experience.

Aubrey Miller (Britt Robertson) is a junior in high school.  Leaving a party, she sees Dave Hodgman (Dylan O’Brien), a senior at a different high school, rehearsing a declaration of love for his longtime friend, Jane (Victoria Justice).  In spite of herself, she coaches him on how to do it right, explaining several times that she has a boyfriend and that she hates public displays of affection.  When the party gets busted, he walks Aubrey home and they talk about themselves and what they want to do with their lives.  At the door, she invites him inside and he is blown away by the collages that fill her bedroom.  They have some wine and end up falling alseep on the floor curled up together.

The next morning, they are awakened by a knock on her door.  Panicked, Dave spills a wine glass on his way out the window.  Her parents (Joshua Malina and Christine Taylor) lecture her about drinking, but Aubrey convinces them that its better for her to be drinking at home than at a party or driving.  Through friends, Dave is able to get her home phone number and calls her up, wanting to see her again.  She tells him that she’s going to see a movie with her boyfriend, Ronny (James Frecheville), an older guy who is rather obnoxious.  After the movie, one of their friends invites them to a party at her parents’ house and they all go.

During the party, Ronny tells Dave that he is going to have sex with Aubrey later that night and Dave is depressed that her first time should be with such a putz.  He gets some time alone with Jane, but finds that he is no longer interested in her.  Driving around on his own, he gets a call from Aubrey, who has broken up with Ronnie.  He picks her up and they each reveal that they have feelings for the other.  At her door, they kiss passionately.  The next morning, they go out with his little sister, Stella (Maggie Elizabeth Jones), who approves of their relationship.

Aubrey finds out that her parents will be out for the evening, so she invites Dave over.  Although they are passionate at first, when Aubrey gets a condom for him, everything slows down and they both become extremely nervous about having sex for the first time, which leads to an unfortunate experience.  Afterwards, they are both depressed and when he leaves, she tells him that she will call, but they both have the feeling that it is over.  Each waiting for the other call, they obsess about their feelings for each other.

Eventually, as she prepares to leave for school, Dave shows up.  Once again, he’s been rehearsing what he wants to say to her, but it comes out simply: he likes talking to her and he wants to keep talking to her and maybe they can figure out what happens next along the way.  She asks him for a ride to school and they talk about maybe doing everything better in the future.  In spite of her hatred of public displays of emotion, she says to hell with it and kisses him passionately outside her school.

There are several reasons why the movie is successful.

One of them is Kasdan’s script, which is so incredibly simple that it really tugs at the viewer’s heart.  Many script writers of teen romances try to complicate the story by throwing in all kinds of unnecessary complications, but Kasdan relies on being a teenager as all the complication required and it works amazingly well.  His direction is also simple, very clean, with lots of long two-shots where the actors are allowed to carry the story without any gimmicks.

The other reason for the movie’s success is the performance of its two leads.  Dylan O’Brien gives us a character who is incredibly innocent, who wants so much to be in love that he targets his best friend, without realizing how different they are.  Britt Robertson creates a character in Aubrey who sees the world through cynical eyes, but ultimately wants nothing more than to be with someone who cares about her.  They are both rock-solid performances, completely believable, and ultimately very likeable, creating terrific chemistry together.

This film is short, simple, very well-made, and very heartfelt, with just enough comedy to offset the deeper emotions that it evokes.

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The Breakfast Club

Breakfast ClubYelling one minute, giggling the next, while cool music plays throughout.  Welcome to The Breakfast Club, John Hughes’ 1985 comedy-drama about five teenagers confined to a Saturday detention in the Shermer High School library in Shermer, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.

Each one of the five kids represents a different kind of high school culture.  Although wrestler Andrew Clark (Emilio Estevez), teen beauty Claire Standish (Molly Ringwald), and brainy Brian Johnson (Anthony Michael Hall) come from wealthy families, they each represent a separate segment of high school society.  Likewise, rebellious John Bender (Judd Nelson) and spooky Allison Reynolds (Ally Sheedy) come from the wrong side of the tracks, but one is brash and outgoing while the other is quiet and shy.

The teacher who rides herd on the five of them is Richard “Dick” Vernon (Paul Gleason), an assistant principal who is rough and disillusioned with his profession.  The only other adult character of any consequence is the philosophical janitor, Carl Reed (John Kapelos) who enlightens both Dick and the kids.

John creates the drama as he pushes against the rich kids and makes fun of the dork, both strutting his anger at coming from a poor, ignorant family and concealing his own fear for his future.  He teases Claire about being a virgin, Andrew about being a dumb jock, and Brian about not fitting in.  As the day goes on, they gradually become friends, laughing, dancing, shouting, and opening up about their deepest truths and fears.

There isn’t much of a plot here, but that’s not important.  Most of the movie dedicates itself to the theme that in spite of outside differences, we’re all pretty much the same, a pretty good message in any time or place.  The generous ensemble script allows room for each character to bloom.

Most of the acting is excellent, although the emotional outbursts now seem a little over the top, as are the stock characters.  The movie is really excellent except when it tries to go deep.  Of the five teens, Ally Sheedy really stands out as the best and that is partly because her character doesn’t fit into a mold and partly because she infuses it with a great deal of originality.

The best part of the film is the comedy and when it’s good, it’s really laugh out loud good and it carries the movie beyond the simple teen angst that colors the drama.  A fun movie.  At an hour and a half, the timing is perfect and it is almost impossible to stop watching once you start, always a sign that a movie is doing its job.

Pretty in Pink

Pretty-in-Pink-Duckie-AndieIt’s very rare in the realm of popular movies (outside of period pieces) that costumes play a major role, but Marilyn Vance is largely responsible for the success of the 1986 John Hughes script Pretty in Pink.  The third of the “Brat Pack” trilogy of movies, following Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, it closely resembles the first film, Sixteen Candles, and if Hughes had had his way by casting Anthony Michael Hall in the pivotal role of Duckie, it might have been even closer.

The following review contains total plot spoilers, so beware.

The film is about a high school  senior, Andie (Molly Ringwald), with a great fashion sense.  Coming from the poor side of the tracks–a fact that is bluntly stated in the opening shot when the camera actually crosses the said tracks–Andie lives with her father (Harry Dean Stanton) and struggles against the conformity in her high school.  By frequenting thrift shops, she puts together an amazingly fresh and offbeat ensemble every day.  Of course, the rich girls at her school are complete snobs and they all wear expensive (or looks expensive) clothing and they make fun of her attire.  Her best friend, since they were kids, Phil “Duckie” Dale (Jon Cryer) is also loose from head to toe, wearing outfits as outlandish as Andie’s are stylish.  Also poor and outside the circle of the rich kids, he follows Andie around like a puppy dog and seems oblivious that she’s not interested in him romantically.

In spite of her outcast status among the girls at school, she seems to be an object of interest to some of the wealthiest boys, including Steff (James Spader), who she rejects near the beginning of the movie, and Blane (Andrew McCarthy), who seriously interests her.  She works at a record store called Trax, for a beautiful, outlandish girl in her thirties, Iona (Annie Potts) and she seeks Iona’s advice a lot.  Blane shows up at the store one day and seems to be returning Andie’s feelings.  When he asks her to go out with him, Duckie is cut to the quick, goes into a serious depression, and even backs out of his friendship with her.

Blane takes her to a party at Steff’s where the girls’ antipathy toward her is obvious and makes her totally uncomfortable.  Taking her upstairs, they blunder into a room where Steff is lolling around with the coolest girl in the school, Bunny (Kate Vernon) who makes fun of her.  They leave and go to a club that Andie hangs out at, but Duckie is there with Iona and he picks a fight with Blane, so they leave.  He asks her to the prom and she gets excited about going with him.  They commit themselves to the relationship, but Steff keeps bothering Blane about it until Blane finally backs out and embarrasses Andie in school.

Her father buys her a pretty ugly prom dress and she combines it with Iona’s old prom dress to make a new creation that is pretty cool.  She goes to the prom alone, but sees Duckie there and they go into the prom together.  Blane, who has also come alone, both apologizes and at the same time blames her for their relationship not working and tells her that he loves her.  In a reversal of character, Duckie tells her to go after Blane, then a beautiful girl, the Duckete (Kristy Swanson) gets his attention and he’s off with her.  The movie ends with Blane kissing Andie in the parking lot.

If some of this plot seems a little muddled, it’s partly because the entire ending was re-written and re-shot after preview audiences booed the ending.  In the original script, Andie ends up with Duckie.  It’s really weird and creates a lot of confusion.  For one thing, the entire film has built toward Blane’s complete screw up with Andie and her moving beyond him–and that includes his blaming her at the end for something that was entirely his own fault.  How she could go with him after that is anybody’s guess.  Part of the issue, too, is that while her friendship with Duckie is strong and deep, there isn’t any romantic attraction on her part, which negates the original ending.  In an interview on the DVD, Molly Ringwald admits that Robert Downy, Jr. almost got the role of Duckie and that she had a strong chemistry with him that would have made the original ending work, but that she herself did not like ending up with Jon Cryer because they didn’t have any kind of romantic chemistry.

So the ending is compounded by multiple mistakes and it really screws up an otherwise engaging, funny, and hip movie.

The script by John Hughes was written for Molly Ringwald and the character of Andie is fully realized, fueled by a dynamic and engaging performance by the actress.  The direction by first time director Howard Deutch is loose and fun.  He creates a great little, believable world for Hughes’ characters to inhabit.  Jon Cryer is outstanding as Duckie, always funny and charming.  Harry Dean Stanton is terrific as Andie’s father and Annie Potts gives an amazing performance as Iona–probably the best performance of her career.  James Spader is both beautiful and slimy, a combination that he has made into lifetime’s work.  And the cast is sprinkled with terrific cameos, including Andrew Dice Clay, Dweezil Zappa, and Kristy Swanson.

Molly Ringwald and Jon Cryer’s costumes are wonderful.  The only other movie I can think of that made such a fresh fashion statement was Woody Allen’s Annie Hall.  The use of pink in all of Molly’s costumes tactfully underscores the title of the movie and every outfit is innovative and fun.  The final ingredient that makes the movie special is the well chosen soundtrack that captures that great late eighties indie rock sound.

The DVD contains many special features that enhance viewing pleasure and they go into fine detail on the problems of the ending.

Even though the movie is deeply derivative of Hughes’ earlier success Sixteen Candles, it remains fresh and charming, but the uncertainty of the filmmakers regarding the ending creates a true confusion that was simply never addressed, either by Hughes or Deutch, and that makes it difficult to enjoy.

Even so, I highly recommend this movie for an evening’s light entertainment.

F

Fargo Frances McDormandFargo

Alfred Hitchcock would have liked this 1996 Joel Coen and Ethan Coen quirky thriller that contains so much comedy it transcends genres.  It borrows a number of techniques from the master of thriller movies, including a clever McGuffin, a villain with empathy, horrific incidents that are hilarious, and a tremendous environmental atmosphere.


THE FIGHTERThe Fighter

There are just a handful of good boxing movies, but The Fighter must be ranked among them.  This 2010 film written by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson is based on the true story of two brothers who each attained some degree of success in the world of boxing.  There is some stretching of the truth in order to make a good movie—and that is just what director David O. Russell gives us.


First TimeThe First Time

The very sweet teen romance written and directed by Jon Kasdan is disarmingly honest, with characters that feel so real there isn’t the hint of artifice.  Centered around two teens who meet by accident, become friends, and each decide to give up their virginity to the other, this film will leave you with a warm, gooey feeling that makes it a worthwhile viewing experience.


Fly Away PictureFly Away

Written and directed by Emmy Award winner Janet Grillo, this 2011 low-budget independent film, shot in a mere 14 days is full of emotional punch and great characters brought to life by a bright and talented cast.


French ConnectionThe French Connection

If you are looking for the meaning of life, this movie is not for you.  Indeed, if you are looking for any meaning at all, this is not your movie.  Rather, it is a completely kinetic film.  Directed by William Friedkin, it echoes the French cinema of the 1950’s, which itself echoes the American gangster films of the 1930’s.  It is all movement and action, with practically no dialogue, moving in a steady arc of energy toward a violent ending.


french kissFrench Kiss

Sometimes the charm of two charismatic actors with great chemistry, combined with a smart, talented director, can make even the most banal of screenplays work to perfection.  Such is the case with Lawrence Kasdan’s 1995 romantic comedy, French Kiss.


Friends with KidsFriends with Kids

This 2011 movie, written, produced and directed by Jennifer Westfeldt, is about a group of shallow, sex-obsessed Manhattan Yuppies who start having children. It stars Adam Scott, Westfeldt, Chris O’Dowd, Kristen Wiig, Jon Hamm and Maya Rudolph.


frozen-river-pic-melissa-leoFrozen River

There are a lot of great movies that somehow never make it into the public eye and Frozen River is one of those films.  It deserves to be seen–and probably deserved a lot more national attention than what it actually got.

Adventureland

AdventurelandAdventureland is a funny and moving teen romance written and directed by Greg Mattola about a group of teens working at a summer carnival. The main character, James Brennan, is a student who has just graduated from a small college and is saving up his money to go to the Columbia School of Journalism so he can begin a career in travel writing. Played with both humor and angst by Jesse Eisenberg, James is trying to find romance, but his own geekiness stands in his way.

It doesn’t take long after meeting Em for him to start falling for her. Older and wiser, she is a student who lives and studies in New York (NYU) during the school year, but works as a carny in the summer. She’s also having an affair with Mike (Ryan Reynolds), a guitar player who also fills in there in the summer as a maintenance man. Married, his one claim to fame is that he is rumored to have jammed with Lou Reed, James’ hero.

The film is a period piece, set in the summer of 1987 and Mattola has gone to great lengths to make the film of its time. The park seems quite old by today’s standards and the costumes and hair styles all reflect the late 80’s very well. Although some of the humor is a bit juvenile, it generally works well. The supporting characters are sharply defined and quirky. Kristen Wiig as the park manager and Bill Hader as her husband and assistant are both quite funny and Martin Starr is quite good as James’ pal Joel.

Both Eisenberg and Stewart are very good and this is probably Stewart’s best performance. They are the only two characters in the movie who have serious scenes and they carry them off very well. It’s a fun movie and worth spending the time watching.

Juno

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I was really bowled away by Juno. What a great film!  The story of a teenage girl named Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) who gets pregnant and decides to carry the baby and give it up for adoption to a needy couple, this movie really delivers great comedy and great drama.  Page is so natural and relaxed in her performance that she is completely believable and she literally carries the movie. The Academy Award-winning script by Diablo Cody is a wonder.  The dialogue is quick, witty, full of pithy phrases that separate Juno and her friends from the run-of-the-mill teenagers at her high school (“Desperately seeking spawn” LOL).  Directed by Jason Reitman, it hits every note spot-on and leaves you with just an amazingly good feeling.

It’s full of wonderful supporting performances, including: Michael Cera as Paulie Bleeker, Juno’s dorky boyfriend and father of the child, J. K. Simmons (the wonderful pitchman at Farmer’s Insurance University) as her dad, Allison Janney as her step-mother, Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner as the anticipated foster parents. They all work together brilliantly in an ensemble cast all clustered around the wonderful performance by Ellen Page at the center and heart of the movie.

So GOOD! I highly recommend this film to literally EVERYBODY!