9 posts categorized "Cult Film"

January 14, 2015

FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH — THE CRITERION COLLECTION

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

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ColeSmithey.com“Fast Times at Ridgemont High” is a remarkable outlier in the teen movie genre even if tone-deaf critics like Roger Ebert panned the film upon its release in 1982. Screenwriter Cameron Crowe adapted the script from his popular novel “Fast Times at Ridgemont High: A True Story,” about a year he spent “undercover” posing as a senior at Clairemont High School in San Diego. Crowe’s keen observations of early ‘80s teen culture provided director Amy Heckerling with a treasure trove of cultural identifiers to apply to the era’s iconographic teen archetypes.

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Many of Heckerling’s exquisite casting choices proved prophetic. Revered actors such as Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Forest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz, and Nicholas Cage (then Nicholas Coppola) got their starts in “Fast Times.” The movie was a forerunner to the John Hughes “brat pack” coming-of-age films that filled out the ‘80s teen-movie craze.

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Episodic in structure and involving a series of equally balanced mini plots, the minutiae-filled movie is unique in the lexicon of teen films in that it is told from the perspective of its young middle class protagonists. Most of the fledgling characters are living adult lives in spite of their ill preparedness for the responsibilities of adult existence. Nearly everyone has a job and drives a car. No one talks about going to college as an interim step to contributing to society. As its title suggests, the times are moving faster than the teens can reasonably handle. Still, they put up a strong front.

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Although the movie is populated primarily with cheesy Southern California pop rock from the likes of Jackson Browne, Joe Walsh, and Don Henley the visuals tell a different story. Posters of punk groups like Blondie, Elvis Costello, Buzzcocks, and the B-52s fill the walls of Robert Romanus’s Mike “Damone” character, a high-school senior living on his own. Damone pays his rent and bills by scalping concert tickets and taking bets on sporting events. He’s a sexual know-it-all happy to share his smarmy methods with his best friend “Rat” (Brian Backer), a shy nerd with a crush on Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a classmate who works across the mall from the cinema where he works.

Fast TimesThe film’s straight-ahead approach to teen sexuality is one of its greatest strengths. Stacy is only 15, but she feels pressured to lose her virginity and master oral sex. Her sexual encounters, with a 26-year-old stud and with Damone, are less than romantic. Stacy’s subsequent pregnancy incites a crisis decision that meets with an anti-climatic resolution squarely in keeping with the reality of the times in which the story is set.

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Informed by the similarly aged Heckerling’s and Crowe’s simpatico sensibilities toward their slightly younger generation, “Fast Times” cleverly employs drama and comedy in equal parts. Sean Penn’s brilliantly crafted stoner-surfer character Jeff Spicoli provides comic relief with an attitude and vocabulary that is shamelessly and unconsciously self-reflexive. Spicoli is pure superego and id. As such he gives the movie its most illustrious anti-hero, a guy who looks out at the raging surf and says to the waves, “let’s party.” Even James Dean never enjoyed such a gloriously punk moment of expression.

Fast Times

Rated R. 90 mins. 

5 Stars

Cozy Cole

Cole Smithey on Patreon

February 18, 2013

THE WARRIORS — CLASSIC FILM PICK

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal! Your generosity keeps the reviews coming!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

 


The WarriorsWalter Hill’s vibrant 1979 adaptation of Sol Yurick’s 1965 novel — based loosely on an ancient Greek story called “Anabasis” — is a classic cinematic record of New York City circa 1979. It arrived during the era when Mayor Ed Koch declared a political war on unions and minorities.

The film’s hip nighttime opening sequence compares Coney Island’s landmark neon-lit Wonder Wheel to the lights of an approaching graffiti-covered subway train. Clips of expositional dialogue by the Coney Island gang named in the film’s title are intercut with a front-car-view of a subway train penetrating its stations.

Thewarriors

Excitement builds under pulsing music orchestrated to allow for the intermittent segments of conversation. Brilliant. Other gangs of uniquely uniformed urban soldiers arrive at subway locations to travel to Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, where a public assembly of unarmed gang delegates from New York’s boroughs gathers for a midnight conference.

Warriors

Cyrus (Roger Hill), “the president of the biggest gang in the city” — the Riffs — speaks to the crowded congregation of young thugs. On the underground stage of political theater, Cyrus calls for a truce between all of New York City’s gangs. Cyrus proposes consolidating New York’s 60,000 gang members into one unified gang capable of ruling a city overseen by a mere 20,000 police officers. As in American politics, unifiers are not really desired. The truce is cut short by a gang agitator’s pistol when Luther (David Patrick Kelly), the leader of the Rogues, shoots Cyrus dead before framing a member of the Warriors as the shooter.

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Dressed in their burgundy American-Indian-styled pleather vests, the Warriors become an easily recognizable target for every other gang in New York, cops included. An African-American female radio DJ (Lynne Thigpen) announces a hit on the Warriors, as demanded by the leader of the Riffs. The filmmaker only shows the DJ’s lips in relation to the microphone. Style and tone blend into actionable energy.

The-warriors

Picking up on the wake of S. E. Hinton’s idealized fantasy novel of ‘60s-era American gang culture (“The Outsiders”), “The Warriors” takes a less censored stance in equating the ostensibly heroic Warriors gang with their weakest links. When Swan (Michael Beck) steps up to lead his team back to “Coney” as “War Chief,” Ajax (James Remar) takes umbrage.

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The gang splits up. Easily distracted by the promise of sexual conquest, Ajax learns the hard way how not to treat a lady seated on a park bench when he tries to rape an undercover cop. The Warriors’ herd gets thinned. New York City police contribute to the gang’s lessening number when a cop shoves a Warrior onto the subway tracks in the path of an oncoming train.

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Gritty and peppered with the us-against-them lingo of the era, “The Warriors” is a cult movie that pushes its cartoonish elements into a desperate realm where fantasy melts away in a wash of brutal reality.

Rated R. 93 mins.

5 Stars

Cozy Cole

Cole Smithey on Patreon

February 10, 2013

THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY — CLASSIC FILM PICK

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal! Your generosity keeps the reviews coming!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

 

 

The Good, the Bad and the UglyThe closing chapter of Sergio Leone’s iconic Spaghetti Western trilogy — following “A Fistful of Dollars” (1964) and “For a Few Dollars More” (1965) — is an operatic cinematic hymn to the hypocrisies of war and the schemes of opportunist outlaws on a quest for personal riches.

Clint Eastwood’s “man-with-no-name” character “Blondie” isn’t exactly a model of ethical behavior, even if the “Good” appellation in the film’s title applies to him.

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The “Bad” refers to Lee Van Cleef’s ruthless gunslinger Sentenza, whose search for a cache of stolen Confederate gold coincides with that of Blondie and the “Ugly” one of the bunch, Eli Wallach’s Mexican character Tuco. Most noteworthy is Leone’s shift away from an emphasis on Eastwood’s thematic standard-bearer in the previous two films to Tuco, an immigrant with an instinct for survival equal to his capacity for humor and greed.

Tuco

With a hefty bounty on his head, Tuco is an unlikely protagonist. His business deal with Blondie involves Eastwood’s sharpshooter gunman splitting the hangman’s rope around Tuco’s neck to free him after receiving the reward for turning Tuco in. Blondie rescues Tuco at the last possible second, and the men escape to pull the same trick in another town. Still, there is no love lost between the men despite their mutually beneficial financial arrangement.

Good-the-bad-and-the-ugly

A son of Italian cinema parents — has father was director Roberto Roberti, and his mother was the silent film actress Edvige Valcarenghi — Sergio Leone had the good fortune of working as an assistant to Vittorio de Sica on “The Bicycle Thief” for his first job. That Leone went to school with his trusted composer Ennio Morricone only adds to the rich pedigree of cinema language from which Leone sprung .

Good-bad-ugly-noose

Leone’s liberal use of widescreen shots in conjunction with extreme close-ups gives the movie an epic quality matched in scope by a skeletal narrative structure that breathes with a poker-faced mood, tone, and personality. Leone uses Ennio Morricone’s brilliant musical score to paint large swaths of aural colors across the screen as if it were a three-dimensional canvas brimming with thematic counterpoint.

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The filmmaker’s stark visual compositions contributes to the story’s surreal landscape where violence is a consequence of the region’s dichotomy between abject poverty and outrageous wealth being spent by the North in conducting the Civil War — an economic power-grab sold to the public, most recently by Steven Spielberg, as a humanitarian battle of moral superiority.

Rated R. 161 mins. 

5 Stars

Cozy Cole

Cole Smithey on Patreon

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