Film Review: Dazed and Confused (1993)

Release Date: June 4th, 1993 (Seattle International Film Festival)
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Written by: Richard Linklater
Music by: various
Cast: Jason London, Wiley Wiggins, Sasha Jenson, Michelle Burke, Christine Harnos, Rory Cochrane, Ben Affleck, Adam Goldberg, Anthony Rapp, Marissa Ribisi, Catherine Avril Morris, Matthew McConaughey, Shawn Andrews, Cole Hauser, Milla Jovovich, Joey Lauren Adams, Christin Hinojosa, Parker Posey, Deena Martin, Nicky Katt, Esteban Powell, Jason O. Smith, Mark Vandermeulen, Jeremy Fox, Renee Zellweger

Detour Filmproduction, Alphaville Films, Gramercy Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

“That’s what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age.” – Wooderson

I always viewed this movie as a spiritual successor to Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Mainly, because it is a coming-of-age high school movie but it is just as serious, as it is comedic. While it is goofy and funny, it’s a much better film than what it appears to be on a surface level, similar to Ridgemont High.

Also like Ridgemont, it has a stacked cast that features a ton of young stars. These stars would become big names as the ’90s rolled on and the turn of the new millennium took many of them to the heights of Hollywood. There are future Academy Award winners in this cast.

It’s also directed by Richard Linklater and it has similar beats to his other coming-of-age films, although it doesn’t have as hard of an edge as the really dark, SubUrbia.

The story starts on the last day of school and it follows several characters over the course of that day and night. Each one is faced with an uncertain future, new changes and challenges on the horizon but ultimately, everyone wants to forget about their problems and just enjoy the night.

The film takes place in the mid-’70s, even though it came out in the ’90s. But it’s also timeless and regardless of the timeframe in which it takes place, it’s also really true to what the ’90s were like. I know, because I was this age in the ’90s. I can’t speak on how this will play for modern high school students but the world is a weird, incredibly soft place now.

What makes this movie so much better than most of the films like it is the performances of the cast and how genuine everything feels. Linklater obviously wrote this based off of his own high school experiences and his personal intimacy with the material comes through in every scene. And frankly, there isn’t a single unnecessary or dull scene in the entire film.

Additionally, all the big plots are well-balanced and organized, as the night plays on and several characters weave in and out of the larger story, overlapping.

Dazed and Confused has stood the test of time incredibly well. I feel like it’s material will always be relevant and because of that, it is one of the greatest motion pictures of its type.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other Richard Linklater coming of age films, as well as other good coming of age high school movies.

Film Review: Boiler Room (2000)

Release Date: January 30th, 2000 (Sundance)
Directed by: Ben Younger
Written by: Ben Younger
Music by: The Angel
Cast: Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel, Nia Long, Nicky Katt, Scott Caan, Ben Affleck, Ron Rifkin, Jamie Kennedy, Taylor Nichols, Bill Sage, Tom Everett Scott, Anson Mount, Kirk Acevado, Desmond Harrington (uncredited)

Team Todd, New Line Cinema, 120 Minutes

Review:

“[to the new recruits] And there is no such thing as a no sale call. A sale is made on every call you make. Either you sell the client some stock or he sells you a reason he can’t. Either way a sale is made, the only question is who is gonna close? You or him? Now be relentless, that’s it, I’m done.” – Jim Young

For years, until there was actually a second Wall Street movie, I saw this as that film’s spiritual successor. Which is also sort of fitting as the characters in this movie worship the Gordon Gekko character from Wall Street.

I actually still view this as a spiritual sequel, however, as it’s very apparent that it was strongly influenced by Wall Street and also because it is a motion picture of quality. While it might not live up to Wall Street or Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, it’s still damn good and at least in the same orbit as those movies.

The plot of the film is intriguing and it sucks you in from the get go. It’s about a smart, savvy college dropout who goes from running an illegal casino in his house to being one of the top brokers at a really young, lucrative and questionable brokerage firm.

Over the course of the movie, we see Giovanni Ribisi’s Seth Davis go from being a slightly timid rookie to a confident and smart salesman to being swarmed with immense guilt when he realizes that he has completely fucking people out of their life savings to reluctant antihero that tried to fix some of the damage he caused while taking the firm down.

I can’t quite call Seth Davis a hero, as it took his father disowning him and the FBI pinching him to get him to actually change his tune. It’s hard to tell if he would’ve arrived to a better place on his own but, at least he tried to undo some of his wreckage.

Beyond Ribisi, this is a film that is loaded with a lot of the up and coming male talent of the day. Vin Diesel and Nicky Katt really stick out and Ben Affleck’s performance is great, even if his scenes are few and his role feels more like a beefed up cameo.

I really loved the music in this film, as it’s full of east coast hip-hop of the early to mid-’90s, which has always been my favorite kind of hip-hop. It may be slightly dated for this 2000 film but it worked for me, as I started to ignore more mainstream rap music around 1998.

Anyway, this is a superb finance thriller. It has stood up to the test of time in the same way that Wall Street has. If you like these sort of movies but have slept on Boiler Room the last two decades, you should check it out.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other finance industry thrillers like Wall Street, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, The Big Short, Rogue Trader, etc.

Film Review: Batman & Robin (1997)

Release Date: June 12th, 1997 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Joel Schumacher
Written by: Akiva Goldsman
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Music by: Elliot Goldenthal
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone, John Glover, Elle Macpherson, Vivica A. Fox, Jesse Ventura, Nicky Katt

Warner Bros., 125 Minutes

Review:

“If revenge is a dish best served cold, then put on your Sunday finest. It’s time to feast!” – Mr. Freeze

When I recently reviewed Batman Forever, I was really harsh on it. I also said that it is a worse movie than this one, which is considered one of the worst movies ever made. Watching these two films, back to back, after all these years, I still feel that way. This is the superior film of the two dreadful Joel Schumacher Batman pictures.

What makes this stand well above Batman Forever, for me, is the thing that most people like to trash about this picture: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze. Sorry, I just love puns and Mr. Freeze’s awful and cheesy puns still make me smile. Sure, I’d prefer a more serious Batman film than this festival of hokey camp but if Schumacher insists on destroying something I love, I can at least appreciate Schwarzenegger’s performance for what it is, a beacon of utter hilarity in a sea of horribleness. And really, Schwarzenegger’s Freeze is the best of the Schumacher Batman villains. The Riddler and Two-Face were just more insane versions of the Joker, Poison Ivy was terrible and Bane just made me want to cry.

Speaking of Ivy and Bane, this film’s other villains, one would have to be somewhat excited at the prospect of Uma Thurman playing Ivy. However, she gets completely Schumachered up and is a shell of the great character she should be. In fact, she’s not Poison Ivy at all, she’s a wacko scientist reborn as a plant that emulates over the top starlets of a bygone Hollywood era.

Now Bane, he’s even less Bane than Ivy is Ivy. In the comics, Bane is an intelligent and strong foil for Batman, a true equal with more strength and the advantage of not being bogged down by good guy morals. Here, he is a dumb hulking brute that spends more time dressed like Dick Tracy in a lucha libre mask than actually doing anything useful. Fuck Bane. Fuck Schumacher.

The film is also full of the Bat-nipples, Bat-butt and Bat-crotch shots made famous in Batman Forever but since they introduced Batgirl here, we also get a gratuitous Bat-boobies shot when she first throws on her costume. Schumacher likes his sexy Bat-bits being front and center in these more “family friendly” films.

We also get more of Elliot Goldenthal’s awful Batman theme except it is even louder and more unrelenting in this picture than it was in Batman Forever. It literally never stops. Sure, it may have the volume dropped a bit here and there but it is just two hours of violent horns blowing right up your ass. By the time you get to the final shot of the movie where Batman, Robin and Batgirl run towards the screen with the theme blaring louder than ever, you want to scream, “Oh my god! Fucking enough already!!!”

This film isn’t as ugly as Batman Forever but make no mistake, it is still really friggin’ ugly. It’s like some random person walked up to Joel Schumacher and asked, “How are your Batman films going to look?” And he realized he hadn’t thought about it yet but since he was buying black light posters for his niece at Spencer Gifts, he pointed to the poster rack and hissed, “Just like thiiiiiissssss!”

Other than Schwarzenegger trying his damnedest to be fun here, there is nothing in this film that is worthwhile. I could get into the lousy script, how George Clooney was like a fish out of water, the horrendous wire work in the action sequences and about 900 dozen other things but this movie is a massive failure. Still… not as bad as Batman Forever, which wasn’t even mildly fun or entertaining. Schwarzenegger saved this movie from itself, even if it still turned out worse than a sawdust enema.

So it should go without saying that this needs to be put through the trusty Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 5 Stool: Soft blobs with clear-cut edges (passed easily).”

Rating: 3.75/10

Film Review: The ‘Burbs (1989)

Release Date: February 17th, 1989
Directed by: Joe Dante
Written by: Dana Olsen
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, Rick Ducommun, Corey Feldman, Wendy Schaal, Henry Gibson, Brother Theodore, Courtney Gains, Dick Miller, Robert Picardo, Nicky Katt, Billy Jacoby (voice)

Imagine Entertainment, Universal Studios, 101 Minutes

Review:

“[finds a femur] Ray, there’s no doubt anymore. This is real. Your neighbors are murdering people. They’re chopping them up. They’re burying them in their backyard. Ray… this is Walter.” – Art Wiengartner

The ‘Burbs is a rare dark comedy that hits all the right notes. Joe Dante was the perfect person to direct the script and the film was also perfectly cast.

While Tom Hanks was already building a name for himself and was a really good comedic performer that could handle more serious or dramatic material, it was this picture that really cemented his status, at least for me.

Hanks wowed people with a dramatic turn in Nothing In Common and even though The ‘Burbs doesn’t get as serious as that film, Hanks could flip the switch from comedy to serious on a dime, which he did here flawlessly. This and Big, which came out just a year prior, are the two films that made me a Tom Hanks fan. Following this up with the underappreciated Joe Versus the Volcano was also a great move by Hanks.

The cast is rounded out by Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, Corey Feldman and Canadian comedian Rick Ducommun – a guy that probably should have had more prominent roles like this. The Klopek family, who were the focal point of suburban curiosity, were played by Henry Gibson – who is always fun, Brother Theodore – who was tailor made for this film, as well as Courtney Gains, who creeped out audiences a few years prior in Children of the Corn. You also get to see a young Nicky Katt, before he would become more recognized in his work with director Richard Linklater. Joe Dante also dips into the well of his regulars and gives us cameos by the great Dick Miller and the awesome Robert Picardo.

Mundane suburban life is at the center of the movie, as it follows three very bored suburban men and their wariness over the strange new neighbors who moved onto their street: the Klopeks. As the story progresses, they suspect the Klopeks are murderers. The plot escalates to the point that they can’t resist the temptation of digging up the Klopek’s yard and breaking into their house when they leave one day.

The film is highly comedic but is also a mystery and a thriller with a touch of horror added in. It is a pretty awesome mix and Dante worked his magic to great results.

It is also a highly stylized picture but in a subtle way. It was filmed on the Universal backlot and utilized some of the houses seen in famous sitcoms and other films. In fact, the house that Hanks lives in was used a few years earlier in another Hanks film, Dragnet. The generic suburban look makes it so that this neighborhood could be any neighborhood but it also has a sort of fantasy feel to it. It’s grounded in reality but it skews reality.

The ‘Burbs is solid, through and through. While it has gotten more popular over time, it wasn’t a critical success in 1989. When I first saw it, most of the kids I talked to hadn’t seen it. As I got older and time rolled on, I found more and more people that loved the film after discovering it on video or cable. Still, it surprisingly only has a 49 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

While not explicitly horror, this is a film I have to pop on almost annually around Halloween.

Rating: 9.25/10

Film Review: SubUrbia (1996)

Release Date: October 11th, 1996 (New York Film Festival)
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Written by: Eric Bogosian
Based on: the SubUrbia play by Eric Bogosian
Music by: Sonic Youth
Cast: Giovanni Ribisi, Steve Zahn, Amie Carey, Nicky Katt, Ajay Naidu, Parker Posey, Dina Spybey, Samia Shoaib, William Martin

Castle Rock Entertainment, Detour Filmproduction, Sony Pictures, 121 Minutes

Review:

“At least I admit that I don’t know. I know that things are fucked up, beyond belief, and I have nothing original to say about it…” – Jeff

SubUrbia was the fourth picture by Richard Linklater and it is a sort of spiritual successor to his films Slacker and Dazed and Confused. It features many of the same stylistic elements and narrative tropes. It is also set in suburban Texas (and filmed in Austin) like those previous films.

While being a comedy, initially, the humor is very dark and the serious tones push this more towards being a drama, as the film rolls on. It follows the lives of a handful of twenty-something friends, stuck and complacent in their lives, talking about their big plans and their next move but ultimately wasting their time on the planet: drinking and moping around a convenience store parking lot. When one of their high school buddies, who became a pop star, returns home to visit his friends, relationships are tested and the group begins to implode.

SubUrbia feels both like Slacker and Dazed and Confused. It has the visual tone and style of Slacker but is more cohesive and follows a group of young people trying to figure out their futures like Dazed and Confused.

It is also the most serious and darkest of Linklater’s early pictures. While the harshness of the film makes it feel more realistic and authentic, compared to his lighthearted earlier pictures, it also doesn’t resonate as well. SubUrbia feels like kids I knew when I was that age but mostly kids I didn’t want to hang out with. Sure, I had some shitty and annoying friends but none of these characters are all that likable, except for the girl with major substance abuse issues. Steve Zahn, who I’ve always liked, was a guy I just wanted to punch.

Granted, the acting is damn superb. Each of these shitty kids was believable and they owned their parts. Besides, it isn’t a movie where you’re supposed to like anyone, it’s just a reflection of what lower middle class suburban youth were like in the mid-90s, stuck in a time between grunge music and boy bands. A time when the Internet was still in its infancy and wasn’t yet a mainstream social tool. Being close to this age, around the same time, makes it a film I can relate to.

Giovanni Ribisi showed that he was one of the best actors of his generation and the fact that he never became the star many people thought he would be, is pretty baffling. Nicky Katt, who plays the aggressive asshole of the group (and an aggressive asshole in Dazed and Confused) was dynamite. While he is barely in Dazed, he showed something real in that film and it is cool seeing him sort of expand on that role for SubUrbia. Amie Carey played and interesting character and she was one of the ones I nearly liked. Surprisingly, she hasn’t done much acting outside of this. Also, Parker Posey is in this and I enjoy her in just about everything.

The big standout for me though, was Ajay Naidu, most widely known as Samir from Office Space. His frustration with these shitty kids connects with the audience. The violence brought against him by the characters was sad. The fact that he genuinely wanted to see a few of them do something with their lives just added a lot of emotional weight to the tragedy of this story. As much as I enjoy Naidu in Office Space, this is really his greatest role that I have come across.

SubUrbia gets so real that it becomes uncomfortable. Fans of Dazed and Confused that want to check this out will probably be caught off guard by it, I was. It is a very different movie, even if it does cover some of the same territory. But where Dazed and Confused left you feeling really optimistic, SubUrbia is the stark contrast to that.

I liked SubUrbia, quite a lot, but it isn’t the sort of film you will want to re-watch on a rainy day like its endearing predecessor.

Rating: 7.5/10