John Hughes Crystallized the Best of Being Kids in America

When I was still a film critic for The Michigan Daily, I went to a film festival at The Michigan Theater showing classic 1980’s films starring the Brat Pack as part of its “Kids in America: 80’s Teen Classics”. The theater didn’t publish why these films were being shown in the midst of Halloween (even after I sent them an email, the assholes), but their pervasive influence in pop culture from enduring quotes to merchandise is proof their legacy lives on.

Of course, a showcase of these movies would be incomplete without discussing the work of director-screenwriter and Michigan native John Hughes. He is said to be the pioneer of the teen film genre for good reason. His careful attention to organic dialogue is consistent throughout his repertoire. But what sets Hughes’ films apart is that he gives his teenage protagonists the respect they deserve. There is never a hint of condescending even in the midst of teenage problems one quickly outgrows after graduation.

Something I appreciate of his work is that he used vastly different protagonists to tap into different facets of American ideals in adolescence. “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. I have heard friends and celebrities alike call the film their favorite of all time due to the quintessentially American joie de vivre it conveys. If a baseball game, an art museum and fine dining is supposed to be the epitome of the good life in America, then I am underwhelmed. Lots of people have attained these ideals, as fortunate as they may be. But the way Ferris sticks it to The Man by refusing to take an exam on a subject he plans on never using is what keeps the film timeless. It kept the movie for me from being a purely hedonistic romp through Chicago to an escapist trip the “everyteen” protagonist deserves as they make their way through the awkward stage of not being a child yet not quite being an autonomous adult.

The grandeur of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”’s plot distracts from one of Hughes’s strengths that keep his legacy alive: having a keen eye for high school social hierarchy. “Sixteen Candles” and “Pretty in Pink”, both starring Molly Ringwald, feel a lot like the same film on the surface. The well-trodden tale of a girl pining for a boy who is unattainable due to age or socioeconomic status could have easily fallen flat as a cliche romance starring teenagers. But the world in these films are so lushly populated by opinionated friends and family that the societal pressures driving the heroines’ decisions recreates those faced by teenagers in real life.

In the same vein, the director-screenwriter had a keen appreciation for the stock characters that populate American narratives of high school. This is showcased best in his classic “The Breakfast Club”. Having essentially caricatures of the five kinds of people you meet in high school forced into interacting with one another might sound lacking in depth. But the honest backstories and sincere performances elevate it to a gripping look at detention as a microcosm of high school social ills that ring true today. Though a friend of mine recalls laughing hysterically at the scene where the club divulges why they were in detention in the first place (after smoking weed no less), I was moved deeply. Here was a screenplay that understood how teenagers present themselves. Moreover, here was a movie that knew that teenagers’ problems are as real as those of any adult drama.

YA author John Green seems to have carried on Hughes’s torch in contemporary times, not only in content but in commercial success as well. Green’s novels and indeed the YA genre in general transcend their target audience to assimilate into America’s mass culture, much like Hughes’s films did thirty years ago. So while there is no obvious reason why to screen teen films from the 1980’s in October, there is never a wrong time to do so. Adolescence is an exciting time. Capturing the period you have your whole life ahead of as you begin to gain independence lends irresistible optimism and romanticism to any story, regardless of who experiences it.

Winter 2018 Olympics: Bobsledding

The Winter Olympics are getting closer and people are beginning to pay more attention to the sports that will be featured in them.  Most of these winter sports are only highly publicized every four years during the Olympics.  An example of this is the sport of bobsledding.  Bobsledding is a sport that most people have heard of and know the general concept of what it is without knowing many details about the athletes or logistics and scoring of the sport.  The sport gets minimal media attention, even throughout the Olympics because it is overshadowed by figure skating and snowboarding.

There has only been one movie made about bobsledding, “Cool Runnings”.  It is about the first Jamaican bobsled team and how they were formed, practiced, and eventually made it to the Olympics.  The movie shows the basics equipment, requirements, and skills needed to compete in the sport.  It also states the basic rules and possible qualifying times to make it into the Olympics around 1993.  It is more of a fun team building and friendship movie than an informative bobsled movie but it did help to expose more people to the sport.

In all bobsleigh events there is one driver and at least one other person in the sled to help with the momentum of the sled as it travels through the course.  The driver has to turn the corners and lean the sled at the perfect angle for the sled to not lose momentum during the race, and the other members in the sled have to lean along with it to make the sled steady.  The driver of the team has to memorize each course and the angles of every turn to be prepared before he/she even gets to the event.

There are three different bobsleigh events: four man, two man, and two women.  The four men race can be man and/or women.  The four man bobsleigh event has been a part of the Winter Olympics since the first one took place in 1924.  The two man bobsleigh was added in 1932 at the third Winter Olympics, and the two women bobsleigh was added in 2002 at the nineteenth Winter Olympic Games.

For the 2018 Games the center that the race takes place is also the venue of the luge and skeleton races.  All three sports use the same track with the course length being adjusted per sport.  All of the bobsleigh events use a course length of 1,376.38m, or 0.86 miles.  The average slope of the track is 9.48%.

Bobsledding is only one of the many sports that are only in the spotlight during the Winter Olympics.  Even during the Olympics they are still overlooked and out shined by other sports like snowboarding.  But throughout the years the viewership has risen thanks to the movie “Cool Runnings”, and with time it will hopefully become more popular.

Classic Holiday Entertainment

From Black Friday to January first, Holiday music and movies are playing nonstop in stores and on TV.  Most of the classic holiday movies also have very popular songs to accompany them.  Here is list of classic holiday songs and the movies that accompany them:

Rudolph, the red nosed reindeer

The popular song, “Rudolph the red nosed reindeer” actually came from a book written in 1939 by Robert May.  The song was created in 1949 by Johnny Marks.  The first claymation movie adaptation was created in 1964.

Santa clause is coming to town

The song “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” was written in 1934 by John Frederick Coots.  The claymation movie was made in 1970 starring Kris Kringle, A.K.A. Santa Claus, and his journey of becoming Santa.  A book was written in 2008 to accompany the song and movie.

Frosty the snowman

The song “Frosty The Snowman” was written in 1950 by Walter E Rollins.  The first movie adaptation was a 2D animation created in 1969.  Many more movies have been created after this showing Frosty’s life and featuring the song.  There have also been countless books that depict his life as it is laid out in the song.

Little drummer boy

The song “Little Drummer Boy” was written in 1941 by Harry Simeone, Katherine Kennicott Davis, and Henry Onorati.  The claymation movie were released in 1968.  Ezra Jack Keats wrote the book adaptation in the same year,1968.

The Year Without a Santa Claus

The classic songs “Heat Miser” and “Snow Miser” were in the claymation movie “The Year Without A Santa Claus”.  The movie was created in 1974.  Unlike the other classic Holiday songs on this list, the songs were written for the movie and become classics and popular through the movie.

Grandma Got run over by a reindeer

The song “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” was written in 1979 by Randy Brooks.  The animated movie adaptation was created in 2000.  This newer movie has quickly become a classic for people under 30, with the movie appearing on Cartoon Network frequently over the Holiday season.

Jingle Bells

The song “Jingle Bells” was written in 1857 by James Pierpont(not the man Pierpont Commons in named after).  The song was originally called “One Horse Open Sleigh”.  There have been many movie adaptations of this song, and many other movies have used the song to add a Holiday feeling to them.  “Jingle Bells” was the first song to be broadcast from outer space.  The two astronauts sang the song to mission control with bells and a harmonica after pulling a prank on them!

FreeForm 25 Days of Christmas

Thanksgiving is now over, meaning that it is officially the holiday season.  Stores are decorated, the radio is playing festive music, people are now buying gifts for the upcoming festivities, and TV channels are playing their holiday movies and TV episodes.  A staple TV holiday movie schedule is ABC Family, now FreeForm, 25 Days of Christmas movie schedule.  This is a month long event that people look forward to starting in October.  FreeForm posts the movie schedule in November for their viewers to get excited and mark their calendars and DVRs for when their favorite movies are playing.

The 2017 schedule is out and it is starting in 3 days, so it’s time to look at it now and prepare for a month of nonstop holiday movies and entertainment.  Starting on December 1st everyday from 7:00am to 1:00am there will be nonstop holiday movies.  There are hundreds of holiday movies to choose from for FreeForm to put on the schedule, but they mainly stick to the same 50 or so movi

Buddy the elf showing his holiday spirit

es each year.  The classics like Home Alone, Polar Express, and A Christmas Carol are always played several times throughout the month so that everyone can get a chance to watch the show.  The most popular holiday movie in recent years is Elf.  Elf is playing 20 out of the 25 days, so don’t worry about missing it because there are plenty of opportunities.

With FreeForm being owned by Disney, there are also a lot of Mickey Mouse appearances throughout the month.  Disney takes classic stories like A Christmas Carol and replace the characters with the familiar faces of Mickey and his friends.  Movies like these will be played several times throughout the month along with non-Disney versions as well so people can watch it both ways or just pick their favorite version and watch that.

The movies throughout FreeForms 25 Days of Christmas range from animated to live action, child to adult movies, and old to new.  Claymation movies are sprinkled in throughout the new animation remakes.  The classic Rudolph The Rednose Reindeer claymation is generally played at least once during the month.  This year The Little Drummer Boy will be played 5 times throughout the month for all those who enjoy classic claymation movies.  These claymation movies are generally more for adults who grew up watching them, children now enjoy the animation in the Polar Express and A Christmas Carol more than the claymation animation style.

FreeForms 25 Days of Christmas is a nonstop holiday party for the entire month of December.  Whenever people are feeling festive they can put it on and know that it will deliver.  It shows movies for every age to enjoy and for families to watch together.  Check the schedule now to make sure that you don’t miss your must watch holiday movie.

When Comedy Films Are Scary

I love a good laugh, but I’m a tough critic. As a result, it can be hard for me to find a nice comedy to watch when too many that get heavily promoted are gross or overtly problematic. What has shocked me in my question to find smart comedy is when the comedy doesn’t look like comedy at all.

My first experience with this paradox was in 2003, when I was around four. One afternoon my parents, cultured as they were, mistakenly rented the French animated film “The Triplettes of Belleville” for me and my even younger brothers to watch. They had rented “Finding Nemo” as well. I clearly remember my parents leaving my brothers and I with my grandmother with the request that we try to watch the French film first since we had already seen so many Pixar movies. I eagerly put on “The Triplettes of Belleville”, wanting to not only obey my parents but to watch that little clownfish be found by his dad again.

I was horrified by the French film. The bleak world depicted by animator Sylvain Chomet was depressing, and most of the characters looked evil. The French song featured in the film “Belleville Rendez-vous” was unintelligible to me at the time, but the wailing notes matched with the nightmarish art of the movie was enough to send me over the edge. I stopped the movie within five minutes and made my case that he movie was horrifying to my parents. I watched it all of 14 years later at age 20 and was again scared watching it, not surprised to learn that it is rated PG-13.

The plot is notably minimalist with little if any dialogue: a presumably French cyclist raised by his supportive grandmother has his chance to make his dream of becoming a champion cyclist come true, until he is kidnapped by what looks like the French mafia and held captive in Belleville, a faux New York City filled with stereotypical fat Americans. His grandmother comes to his rescue, accompanied by three aged, former singers known as the titular triplets of Belleville.

What kept my attention throughout the movie was the varied yet scary character designs. They are hellish, from the deformed cyclist’s incredibly muscular legs legs somehow connected to his terribly thin torso, to the closed eyes and hunched shoulders of the witch-like triplets of Belleville. The dark colors and sketchy figures present in this world, from sexualized prostitutes to grim-faced gunmen who kill in cold-blood, added to the fear factor. And yet, to my surprise, the film is labelled a comedy! I concede that the whimsical way the plot is developed in “The Triplets of Belleville” explains its classification.

I believe “The Triplets of Belleville” is an anomaly as far as comedy films go, as other comedy films I have watched that have been questioned for their humor have made me laugh. One is this year’s smash success “Get Out”, which has recently stirred controversy because it was entered as a submission to the comedy category for best picture at the Golden Globes. The plot was so nuanced and developed that it did not feel like it depended on humor to succeed per se, but it did make the film incredibly unique by masterfully intertwining the two genres. And, every joke was uproariously on point. But it is a horror film at heart, and I can understand why the comedy label may feel a bit of a stretch, even though there is no horror category that it can be submitted to.

Chris under a trance in “Get Out”. Source: Bago Games via Flickr.

This made me think of another film that was deemed too dark for a comedy: the 1971 film “Harold and Maude”, a romantic comedy-drama about a 20-year-old man obsessed with death and a 79-year-old woman who loves life (an old manic pixie dream girl, if you will). Roger Ebert panned the film, giving it one and a half stars out of four saying: “Death can be as funny as most things in life, I suppose, but not the way Harold and Maude go about it.” I was horrified by the beginning when our protagonist simulates hanging himself, and would jump when I saw how his subsequent suicide “attempts” become increasingly outlandish as he scares off potential girlfriends arranged by his unfazed mother. And yet the comedy of seeing the varied reactions from the interested girls was captivating, and built up to the climax when (spoiler alert) Harold loses the love of his life to suicide. This was the moment I learned the meaning of black comedy, as I pealed with laughter at the same time I cupped my mouth in horror and sank in my seat out of sadness. I respect Ebert’s opinion informed by his near-encyclopedic knowledge of film, but I do believe more credit is due to a movie that pulls off such a remarkable feat.

Harold and Maude. Source: Craig Duffy via Flickr.

In conclusion, I do not know what to make of these comedy films that struck me as unusual. Their dark styles do not hinder the message of their plots, but still made me uneasy while watching. I believe this is symptomatic of merging different elements of the comedic with the tragic, and I look forward to seeing even more genre-bending comedies as I continue my quest for a good laugh.

When Art Horror Isn’t Scary

This October I enthusiastically got into the spirit of the holidays by catching up on highly-acclaimed art horror films that have been released within the last decade. These included “The Babadook” (2014), “It Follows” (2015) and “The Witch” (2015). But there was one problem: these scary movies weren’t really that scary. Disappointed by this revelation, I looked up movie reviews of these films and was surprised to find out they were all belittled as “not scary” by people on the Internet when they first came out. It made me wonder what  I expected from scary movies in the first place that made these otherwise excellent films disappoint me.

The main issue was jump scares. I had always considered myself a refined movie goer who could stand the lengthy plot development that puts my parents to sleep. But the 90 minutes that these three films clock in at don’t live up to the anticipation I had when I started watching them. In all three cases, we are given a horrific illustration of the antagonist’s evil powers right at the beginning that captures your attention immediately. But little information about these supernatural creatures is then given. The main characters are then left to debate about whether or not these monsters even exist as they confront fate and encounter these evil forces. This puts the viewer in an awkward position. We see the witch use baby Samuel for his blood. We see the Babadook worm his way inside the mother’s body. We see “it”, in a shocking turn of events, follow.

And yet the movie suffers from not letting the monster at the center breathe life into the plot by rearing their ugly head. You cannot deny how real and scary the threat posed by the antagonists in these films are. You know that the main characters are wrong to shake it off. And yet their false hopes that nothing is out of the ordinary carries weight. They have not yet encountered their demons head on, and since we see what they see we can understand why they would not consider the possibility they are being haunting by the supernatural. By not including jump scares to make the antagonists’ constant threat palpable, these movies force you to focus on the character development as the conflict fueling the plot comes to a climax.

The antagonist always returns at the end of the film, proving the dread that I felt the entire time I was watching these movies was valid. This confrontation at the end allows for the protagonist to unlock their true power, concluding with the main characters overcoming obstacles in making peace with their flaws that sparked the antagonists’ haunting in the first place. Thomasin in “The Witch” dives in to her lack of faith, only to become capable of supporting herself when her struggling family is unable to. The mother and son in “The Babadook” learn to coexist with the grief manifested in the Babadook. Jaime brazenly ignores “it” following her at the end of “It Follows” when she walks with her arms linked with Paul, demonstrating a sense of strength that comes from feeling supported by people who care about you. These endings may have left me unsatisfied as a horror fan. What’s the point of spending the entire movie with the protagonists defending themselves from the monsters if they are unsuccessful anyway? And yet by making the plots of these horror movies more nuanced, it allows film to depict deeply human emotions in a creative way.

I support the trend of these art horror films resisting cheap scares to further develop their characters and their struggles instead. While it may take away from the visceral roller coaster of emotions you have while watching a horror movie, the quieter, more intimate moments of human emotion that are being tapped into make it worth it.