For Your Consideration: May 2, 2014

Admit it. On Wednesdays, you wear pink. You fight the urge to say “you whore” whenever someone boos, you would seriously consider changing your name to Glen Coco, and sometimes you just have a lot of feelings. No one foresaw it on April 30, 2004 when “Mean Girls” hit theaters, but 10 years later, it reigns supreme as the most quotable movie of the century. But more than that, it is a membership card to a generation. Being able to quote Regina George or Janis Ian off the top of your head marks you as one of the millennial club, giving “Mean Girls” an iconic status few movies have been able to achieve. In honor of its 10th anniversary, we picked three other movies that take place in that most treacherous of jungles—the hallways and hangouts of high school.

– Elaine

“Rebel Without A Cause” (1955)

Cast: James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Jim Backus, Ann Doran, Dennis Hopper

Available on Amazon Instant streaming, on iTunes, and on disc from Netflix

It’s hard to say why Jim Stark is angry. Is it the dysfunctional relationship of his parents, his new surroundings, or the pretty girl next door who already has a boyfriend? As “Rebel Without A Cause” unfolds, we learn that it’s all and none of these things. Jim Stark is angry because he is. 

Jim, the new boy in town, struggles to adjust to his new life, falls in love with an equally troubled girl, Judy, and befriends a disturbed younger student, Plato. As Jim, James Dean gives the performance of his all-too-brief career, fusing the uncontrollable rage of youth with the mournful vulnerability of a lost soul to tap into the heart of adolescence. In an iconic scene, Jim and Judy “adopt” Plato, pretending to be the parents he never had. It’s a wonderful moment that captures the confusion and absurdity of adolescence. Caught between childhood and adulthood, they mime their future by reaching into the make-believe of the past. We may never have been as angry as Jim and Judy are, but their confusion and pain resonate. Sixty years on, Nicholas Ray’s classic remains one of the most compelling portraits of how difficult—and how angry—growing up can be.

– Elaine

“Dazed and Confused” (1993)

Cast: Jason London, Joey Lauren Adams, Milla Jovovich, Shawn Andrews, Rory Cochrane, Adam Goldberg, Anthony Rapp, Sasha Jenson, Marissa Ribisi, Deena Martin, Michelle Burke, Cole Hauser, Christine Harnos, Wiley Wiggins, Ben Affleck, Parker Posey, Matthew McConaughey

Available on Amazon Instant, iTunes, on disc from Netflix

Richard Linklater’s time-bending ambitions started long before “Before Sunset” or “Boyhood,” as with his second feature the Texan native effortlessly transported audiences back to 1976 for one of his patented rambling, observational films. Linklater follows his rowdy and rambunctious group of teens over the course of one day and one night – but not just ANY one day and one night, no. It’s the last day of school, and the first, sweet hours of summer. For the students of Austin, the impending aimlessness is both liberating and just a little nerve-wracking: rising freshman are learning what it means to be thrust into adolescence, while graduating seniors contemplate whether they are doomed to become Matthew McConaughey (in what remains, even an Oscar later, his signature role). The characters inhabit more or less archetypical high school roles, but the near-total lack of plot makes this feel less like a manipulated world and more a relatable, inhabited one.

– Ethan

“Saved!” (2004)

Cast: Jena Malone, Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin, Patrick Fugit, Heather Matarazzo, Eva Amurri Martino, Mary Louise Parker

Available on Amazon Instant, iTunes, and streaming on Netflix

Coming out only a month after “Mean Girls” hit theaters, the equally witty (and more scathingly satirical) high school comedy “Saved!” couldn’t quite make it out of Lindsay Lohan’s shadow, grossing only a modest, indie-level-success $10 million. Of course, despite its likable cast of young actors (this was before Culkin started singing about pizza, remember), “Saved!” wasn’t nearly so “audience-friendly” in Hollywood’s eyes – its Christian school setting and tackling of polarizing issues like teen pregnancy, homophobia and religion may have warded off the cinematically unadventurous. But they missed out, as “Saved!” is raunchy, sharp, and touchingly earnest about its characters’ struggles, handling hot-button topics with compassion and hilarity. As high school goes in real life, the emotions flow so loud and large that sometimes you just have to break down laughing.

– Ethan

Review: Only Lovers Left Alive

Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton languish in their immortality in Jim Jarmusch’s brooding, art-house take on the vampire craze.

For Adam and Eve, time does not pass, but lingers. With their pale faces and long, slender limbs draped in voluminous robes made from dark, heavy cloths, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) present a perversely beautiful twist on their biblical namesakes. This is a movie about vampires, but it has nothing to do with the vampires that have come to dominate pop culture in the last decade. Instead, “Only Lovers Left Alive,” the latest from eccentric director Jim Jarmusch, aims to capture a moment and a mood, a world of heavy curtains, yellow light, and enduring night.

Adam and Eve are vampires who have passed the long years of their existence befriending, inspiring, and in some cases, creating for history’s greatest artists. From Shakespeare to Schubert to Tesla, the litany of names mentioned is like a parade through the annals of western civilization. Though they cannot live without each other, they live apart. Adam makes his home on the outskirts of an abandoned Detroit, composing music and feeding off blood supplied by a doctor happy to take money without asking questions. Eve, on the other hand, resides in Tangier, where she spends her nights reading books of all languages and chatting with Christopher Marlowe, a member of the undead still smarting over Shakespeare’s plagiarism. 

Disgusted with the human race, Adam contemplates suicide, leading Eve to come visit and cheer him up.  Reunited, the happy couple play chess, eat popsicles, and go for long drives at night—the picture of blissful domesticity—until Eve’s sister, the reckless Ava (Mia Wasikowska) suddenly appears. This all makes the film sound much more dramatic than it feels, however, and while there is plenty of action to drive the story forward, Jarmusch is not interested in the plot so much as in his vision—the characters, the artistic sensibility they espouse, the timelessness they exude, and the striking images they present.

“Only Lovers” could easily have been a collection of striking, atmospheric images peppered with literary references and connected by a flimsy story—were it not for the performances of its two lead actors. Jarmusch (or his casting directors) deserve a prize just for choosing Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton (can we please call them Tiddleston?) to be vampire lovers. As strange as the pairing seems on paper, it is perfect for this movie. Graceful and ethereal, Swinton and Hiddleston seem hewn from the same form. They lean upon each other with the comfort and ease honed by centuries of companionship, and yet they maintain a strange chemistry. Swinton remains one of the most enigmatic actors working in movies today, and as Eve she seems to carry the wisdom of the world in her eyes. Hiddleston proves to be her equal, and manages to bring levity and wit to a character who primarily broods and sulks. For large stretches of the movie, it’s enough to just watch Adam and Eve be.

While much has been made of Jarmusch’s attitudes towards art—Adam spends much of his time lamenting the “zombie” state of the human race—what was striking in this movie about immortals was the proximity of death. It is only natural that one extreme evokes the other, but the hint of death hangs over the entire movie. Adam contemplates suicide, he and Eve are not opposed to taking lives when no other feeding options present themselves, and they themselves can be poisoned by the blood they feed upon.

In one scene, Adam and Eve toss a corpse into a pool of acid and watch it dissolve. The body disappears into the water, but for a moment the skull bobs stubbornly up and down. Even if the movie hadn’t mentioned Shakespeare multiple times already—including identifying Adam as a prototype for Hamlet—the Prince of Denmark would still have come to mind. As Eve pauses to gaze at the portraits hung on Adam’s wall, the gallery of literati they’ve known through the years, the overwhelming sense is that they have all gone while Adam and Eve remain. They are indeed the only lovers left alive.

Now playing in theaters.

Verdict: 3 1/2 out of 4 stars

For Your Consideration: March 14, 2014

Has the all-too-soon hiatus of HBO’s “True Detective” left you with a hole in your heart? Not literally, we hope. Does the Kickstarted big-screen return of Kristen Bell’s quirky amateur sleuth “Veronica Mars” get you all tingly inside? Keep it to yourself, you might want to get that looked at.

From “Sherlock” to “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” it’s a great time in the TV/film world for tales of crime and those who intrepidly detect them. But the crime thriller has always been a rich genre for filmmakers to mine, and there’s been plenty of hidden gems as a result. This week on For Your Consideration, we consider three offbeat options to get your forensic fix.

“Brick” (2005)

Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nora Zehetner, Lukas Haas, Matt O’Leary, Noah Segan, Noah Fleiss, Emilie de Ravin

Available on iTunes and Amazon

A young woman lies face down in a sewer. Her hair floats lightly in the water, her shoes remain motionless on her feet, and she is identifiable to us only by the strange, blue bracelet she wears. But to the young man staring at her intently from a distance, she is anything but unknown.

So begins “Brick,” a noir set in a southern California high school that pays homage to and reinvents the best of the classic genre. In his quest to discover who killed his ex-girlfriend, Brendan (Joseph-Gordon Levitt), sullen, silent and smart, encounters violent men—drug lords and thugs—but also dim-witted quarterbacks and vice principals threatening suspension. This ability to balance the dangerous underworld of heroin and the comedy of its high school setting gives “Brick” a freshness despite its adherence to an older genre.

Director Rian Johnson has gone on to make the big budget hit “Looper”, also starring Gordon-Levitt, but “Brick” was his first film, shot at his high school, edited on a home computer, and scored by his cousin, lending it a grimy authenticity perfect for the noir ethos. With its pulsating plot, superb acting, and wonderfully winding dialogue, “Brick” makes you afraid to even blink for fear of missing something.

-Elaine

“Memories of Murder” (2003)

Cast: Song Kang-ho, Kim Sang-kyung

Available on disc from Netflix

Lord knows if we’ll ever get to see Bong Joon-ho’s “Snowpiercer,” with or without the edits of Harvey Scissorhands – but we can always take pleasure in the Korean director’s previous three genre masterpieces: “Mother” (2009), “The Host” (2006) and this, the best David Fincher movie that David Fincher never made. Based on the true case of Korea’s first (publicized) serial killer, the film follows a standard set-up, as a bumbling small-town cop is paired with a by-the-book detective from Seoul to hunt down the perpetrator of a disturbing series of rape/murders.

Bong hits all the requisite plot beats, but his unique sense of black humor and expert craft keeps “Memories of Murder” fresh and thrilling. There’s any number of stand-out set-pieces, from a superbly choreographed tracking shot early in the film that emphasizes how woefully unprepared the local police are for such a malevolent force, to a bone-chilling stalking scene that makes me thank god I don’t live anywhere near a paddy. The heart of the film, though, belongs to Song, a phenomenal actor whose comic physicality belies his rich emotional range. His transition, as he realizes he is threatened not by his partner’s modern forensic methods, but a nebulous, elusive evil, is engrossing and alarming.

– Ethan

“The Great Mouse Detective” (1986)

Cast: voices of Vincent Price, Barrie Ingham, Val Bettin, Candy Candido, Basil Rathbone

Available on Netflix instant streaming

One of the most forgotten Disney movies, this version of the Sherlock Holmes story remains clever, frightening, and exhilarating almost 20 years on. Set in Victorian London, a young mouse-girl seeks the help of the famous Basil of Baker after her father, a toymaker, is kidnapped by a terrifying, peg-legged bat. Needless to say, the game is afoot! Basil soon discovers that his arch-nemesis, Professor Ratigan (voiced by none other than Vincent Price) is behind the kidnapping, and the chase goes on from there. From an eerie scene in a toyshop to an epic finale involving a giant cat, an axe, a blimp, and the insides of the Tower of London, this is one of Disney’s genuinely frightening movies. Price gives Ratigan real physicality and a suave, charming air that makes his villainy all the more chilling, while Basil of Baker Street is every bit as lovably pretentious and heroically flawed as his human counterpart.

Some Disney movies we watch for nostalgia, others we watch for the animation. This one we watch because it’s a genuinely good film, based off a pre-existing tale but filled with more originality, wit, and adventure than most of Disney’s other endeavors. This is one Disney movie you’ll never outgrow.

-Elaine