Tag Archives: Teenagers

CAPSULE: DAYDREAM NATION (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Michael Goldbach

FEATURING: Kat Dennings, Reece Thompson, Josh Lucas, Andie MacDowell, Ted Whittall

PLOT: A teenage girl and her dad move to a small town populated with drug-addled teenagers and a mysterious serial killer. Feeling alienated and struggling to make friends, she sees a fellow intellectual outcast in her English teacher and decides to seduce him, while her bumbling classmate Thurston starts to fall for her.

Still from Daydream Nation (2010)


WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Though its dark undertones, nonlinear format, and attempts to comment on the violence and sexiness apparently inherent to small-town teenagers have garnered comparisons to Donnie Darko and Twin Peaks, this is just an angsty, poorly-scripted knockoff with very little true weirdness.

COMMENTS: Narrated by the gorgeous Kat Dennings, who switches back and forth between her recent past and the present, Daydream Nation attempts to mesh poignant high school drama with erratic comedy and suburban darkness.  Caroline, our protagonist, is intelligent and disaffected, often sneaking in awkwardly sophisticated references that her peers don’t understand.  She embarks on a relationship with her teacher on a lark, in an effort to try something new and become a different person for a while; the unstable Mr. Anderson quickly becomes obsessively infatuated with her.  Their relationship falters as Caroline starts responding to the advances of Thurston (Reece Thompson), a druggie classmate mourning the recent death of a friend.  These core proceedings are surrounded by a lingering industrial fire, serial killings, parental interventions, and a ghost or two.

Seemingly shot entirely through a high-contrast haze, the film offers a few visual treats but nothing in the way of ingenuity.  The same can be said for the script, which has a few shining moments of interest but lingers in derivative mediocrity for most of the runtime.  Writer/director Michael Goldbach doesn’t seem to have much confidence in his ability to tell a story, inundating us with unnecessary amounts of narration and several needless plot devices.  The central character of Caroline—while played wonderfully by Kat Dennings—suffers the most. The best parts of the film involve her speaking her mind, calling out the hypocrisy and sexism of those around her, but these scenes are immediately followed by the character chastising herself in private, thinking herself a “bitch” just because she spoke the truth. It’s as if Goldbach wanted to write a strong female character, but then lost his momentum and copped out to typical gender stereotypes.

Daydream Nation aims for subtlety, but comes out with blaring obviousness thanks to the clumsy pacing and script. The performances from Dennings, Thompson, Lucas, and MacDowell are solid, but can’t save the ridiculous dialogue or self-indulgent shooting style (not that I’m complaining about the myriad drawn-out, close-up shots of Dennings, but really, it’s all a bit much). And it isn’t even that weird!

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…rolls elements of ‘Juno,’ ‘American Beauty,’ ‘Donnie Darko’ and ‘Twin Peaks’ into a potent blunt.”–Stephen Holden, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: BATTLE ROYALE [BATORU ROWAIARU] (2000)

 

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:  Kinji Fukasaku

FEATURINGTakeshi “Beat” Kitano, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Chiaki Kuriyama

PLOT:  Intergenerational relations in Japan have broken down to such an extent that

Still from Battle Royale [Batoru Rotaiaru] (2000)

youngsters are rebelling by committing acts of violence and mass truancy.  The situation has deteriorated so badly that the government reacts by passing the “Battle Royale Act”: each year a randomly selected high school class is sent to an isolated, uninhabited island, fitted with remotely detonated explosive collars, given meager supplies and told to fight to the death.  One must emerge a victor or three days later everyone will die.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Although I consider Battle Royale to be a “must see” film, it really can’t go on the list.  It’s just not weird.  It’s funny, violent, overblown, disturbing, both operatic and banal, but not weird.

COMMENTS:  My first review of the film was a little flippant and then, quite randomly, I overheard a man say it was the “sickest” film he had ever seen.  He appeared to be quite sincere and I was driven to go back and watch it again, and again, to try and see what he had seen, what had disturbed him so much.

I don’t think that there’s anything in Battle Royale which will upset “366-ers.”  Yes, it is a film filled with images of youngsters killing each other and it would not be unnatural to find that disturbing.  The violence is so over the top, however, that it’s difficult not to be amused at times.  Who would have thought that a saucepan lid could prove to be such an effective weapon in the right hands?  It’s not even a very good saucepan lid.

The controversy surrounding Battle Royale on its release centered on the graphic violence and the age of the participants, but there is no connection between the violence in the film and real life violence involving teenagers.  The high school class that we follow are being forced against their will to participate in a life or death game, and they have been forced to do so by adults: adults who have stooped so far as to rig the game.  Despite having their backs against the wall, some of teenagers behave quite nobly; pleading for peace, setting up Continue reading CAPSULE: BATTLE ROYALE [BATORU ROWAIARU] (2000)

CAPSULE: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010)

DIRECTED BY:  Samuel Bayer

FEATURING, Jackie Earle Haley, Kyle Gallner, Rooney Mara

PLOT:  A group of high school students share dreams of a burned, claw-handed man named Fred Krueger. As the students begin to die in dramatic ways, the survivors discover that they share a past of secret abuse at the hands of Krueger. The final survivors take it upon themselves drag Krueger from his dream world and dispatch him once and for all.

Still from A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)


WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It really isn’t particularly weird. There are no wild grandstanding dream sequences; they’re all very similar in a “Silent Hill Lite” style.  Given that the central character is a dead man who haunts people in their dreams and can exact real life revenge on their sleeping bodies, Krueger is lacking in imagination.

COMMENTS:  First of all, I should point out that I am not a fan of the Elm St. franchise.  I watched the original many years ago, and watched it again recently in light of the 2010 version, and I enjoyed it.  To my surprise many aspects of the film stood the test of time quite well.  Yes, some of the special effects had aged, but they had a wild, Tex Avery glee in their own madness that was contagious.  The fact that they were practical effects added an immediacy that was quite exciting.  The teens looked and behaved more or less like teens, making allowances for the nature of the film.  It unfolded at a good pace and we had a heroine who stepped up to the plate when called upon.

I didn’t have any objections to someone making a newer version; I  was interested to see it.  I think this movie is what publicists term a “re-imagining” rather than a remake.  The basic idea of the original has been kept.  There is a group of teens, they’re having terrible nightmares, they begin to die horribly, and the killer is Fred Krueger.  That’s as far as the similarities go however, the new film is darker both in mood and aesthetics.  At times it was hard to see where the action was taking place and what was happening.  Everything is dark.  The school is as dark as the boiler room.  The action takes place at night or during some town-wide energy saving drive where everyone seems to be using 20 watt bulbs.

Squinting in the dark has aged the teens a lot; they are a pretty mature bunch of high school Continue reading CAPSULE: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010)

CAPSULE: LOREN CASS (2006)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Chris Fuller

FEATURING: Kayla Tabish, Travis Maynard, Chris Fuller (as Lewis Brogan), Jacob Reynolds

PLOT:  Bad poetry interrupts episodes in the lives of three teens or twenty-somethings at about the time of the 1997 St. Petersburg, Florida race riots.

Still from Loren Cass (2006)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s only fitfully weird, but consistently dull and pretentious. Life on this planet is full of hardships and disappointments; no one should voluntarily compound their woes by watching Loren Cass.

COMMENTS:  A voice says “after the 1997…”   A solo trumpet launches a doomed search for a melody.  A boy wakes up on the floor of a mechanic’s garage.  Another boy, with a shaved head, piercings and tattoos, presumably a skinhead, wakes up on a couch and goes outside to lie in the middle of the street.  A cute blonde girl wakes up next to a black male.  The boy from the garage picks up the skinhead.  The girl takes her own car.  The three drive to school.  The parking lot is full but the hallways inside are empty.  We get a nice look at the urinals.  Someone loads a gun.  We see the urinals from a different angle.  An older man takes a shot of whiskey.  The two boys are next to last to leave the parking lot.  At a stoplight a black guy jumps out of a van and punches the punk kid with through an open window.  They have a fight.  The screen goes blank and a street poet tells us St. Petersburg is “a dirty dirty town by a dirty dirty sea.”  What’s going on here?  The cute blonde works at a diner where no one ever orders anything.  She has car trouble and takes it to the young mechanic.  He fixes it and they go to dinner together.  She shovels gray cubes of meat into her mouth.  He doesn’t eat.  They barely talk but look at each other a lot.  They are in love.  What’s going on here?  Other things happen.  They aren’t interesting, either.  Some kids drink beer and say the F-word a lot until the Man comes and hassles them.  The skinhead’s hobby is to ride the bus at night.  We look at his face.  He looks alienated. Snippets of bad beatnik poetry and drunken ramblings play on the soundtrack.  There is a punk concert.  The skinhead falls asleep on the bus and dreams he’s a victim of spontaneous human combustion.  Years ago an embattled politician committed suicide at a press conference.  The footage is in the public domain so anyone can insert it into their movie at random.  The mechanic and the cute girl have sex.  The skinhead scratches “Loren Cass” onto his arm with a hypodermic needle he finds in a dumpster.  He swallows a handful of pills in a desperate attempt to get out of the movie.  He vomits them up.  The movie won’t let him out that easily.  He wakes up the next morning and looks into the camera.  He looks disaffected.  The trumpet player still hasn’t found a melody.  The credits roll.  What just went on here?  The Variety critic stayed awake and alert long enough to write that he had just seen “a starkly radical film debut of uncommon power and artistic principle.”  Seriously, what is going on here?

The events are set around the times of the St. Petersburg race riots, which we know because we see newsreel footage of the aftermath and hear audio clips of a rabble-rousing black preacher.  The movie supplies no context to suggest whether these incidents take place before, after, or during the riots.  But the subtext makes the film political and important.  Use of the tragically real footage of Pennsylvania Treasurer Budd Dwyer blowing his brains out on camera either says something insightful about fiscal corruption in the Keystone state in the 1980s, or is completely indefensible.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…ingeniously experimental in form… The tone — spaced-out, adrift, grubby yet ecstatic — is reminiscent of Gus Van Sant’s experimental youth movies and Harmony Korine’s ‘Gummo,’ while the formal precision brings to mind Robert Bresson’s clipped, oblique allegories.”–Nathan Lee, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

BORDERLINE WEIRD: NOWHERE (1997)

DIRECTED BY:  Gregg Araki

FEATURING: James Duval, Rachel True

PLOT:  Shallow L.A. teenagers take drugs and have kinky sex all day in preparation for the party of the year, while a rubber alien reptile occasionally stalks and abducts them.

nowhere

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  As an attempt at a contemporary update of Repo Man by way of Clueless, Nowhere is weird, but only in the most superficial way possible; ultimately, it lacks the emotional and thematic chops to earn itself a more dignified adjective than “silly” (although less dignified adjectives like “self-indulgent,” “pretentious” and “annoying” do spring to mind).

COMMENTS:  It begins with the portentous pronouncement “L.A. is like… nowhere.  Everyone who lives here is lost,” voiced with emotionless fervor by “Dark” (Keanu Reeves impersonator James Duval) as he masturbates in the shower.  (This should be your first hint that you might want to skip this movie: do you really want to spend 82 minutes watching an inferior version of Keanu Reeves?)  In the course of a day, the film introduces us to such lost characters as bulimiacs, drug addicts, vanishing valley girls, a “Baywatch” hunk/rapist, and teen dominatrices, all of whom are at bottom indistinguishable but for their preferences in body piercings.  Their chief defining characteristic is a lack of character.  What little character development there is involves Dark’s doomed search for true love and his fruitless attempts to convince bisexual gal pal Mel (Rachel True) to stop sharing her nubile body with every Tom, Dick and Mary.  Too occasional chuckles come via the vulgar and exaggerated teen slang. (A three way cameo conversation between val-gals Traci Lords, Shannen Doherty and Rose McGowan about potential beaus to take to the big party who are not gay, dead by their own hand, or under-hung is an engagingly braindead highlight).  Any lighthearted satirical momentum the film may muster, however, is destroyed by the intrusion of ugly realities like date rape and teen suicide that belong in a non-joke movie that would treat these topics with respect.  Writer/director Akari aims his wit at an incredibly easy target—vapid Hollywood teenagers—but he hardly appears less shallow than they are; whenever the script veers dangerously near something that looks like a real human emotion, as in the climax, he’s quick to deploy predictable Gen-X irony to turn the scene into an absurd joke before his skill at eliciting genuine empathy can be tested.

The teens’ irresponsible “empty” hedonistic lifestyle of drugs, partying, and humping hot bodies actually looks pretty appealing, if only the company didn’t totally blow.  The flick may be enjoyed by smart teenagers (even though director Araki seems to have nothing but contempt for teens), but impressionable young minds should be steered towards better adolescent angst comedies like Heathers if it at all possible.  Not currently available on DVD in North America.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This live-action cartoon might be described as a surreal ‘American Graffiti’ crossed with a kinky ‘Beverly Hills 90210,’ as imagined by a punked-out acolyte of John Waters or Andy Warhol…  If it weren’t so overpopulated and desperate to shock, ‘Nowhere’ might have succeeded as a maliciously cheery satire of Hollywood brats overdosing on the very concept of Hollywood.”–Steven Holden, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

8. DONNIE DARKO (2001)

Gretchen: “You’re weird.”

Donnie: “Sorry.”

Gretchen: “No, it was a compliment.”

Must See (Theatrical Cut)

-or-
Recommended (Director’s Cut)

DIRECTED BY: Richard Kelly

FEATURING: Jake Gyllenhaal, , Mary McDonnel, , Drew Barrymore, Kathryn Ross

PLOT:  Troubled teen Donnie sees visions of a six foot tall demonic bunny rabbit named Frank, who demands that he commit acts of vandalism in a sleepy suburban town in 1988.  Donnie narrowly escapes a freak accident when a jet engine crashes into his bedroom after Frank has awoken him and called him away.  Frank tells Donnie that the world will end in 28 days, on Halloween night, and Donnie attempts to figure out what he can do to save the world while simultaneously dealing with a new girlfriend, bullies, a motivational speaker he sees as a cult leader, and ever-escalating hallucinations.

donnie_darko

BACKGROUND:

  • This was the first feature film for writer/director Richard Kelly.
  • With Barrymore, Swayze and Ross attached, there was a tremendous buzz for the film going into the Sundance Festival.  The movie was not a hit at there, however, and was only picked up for limited theatrical distribution by Newmarket Films at the last moment.
  • Although Donnie Darko was initially a flop on its domestic release, a strong showing overseas helped it to nearly break even.  The film then became a cult hit on video, earning back more than double its production cost.
  • The director’s cut, containing about 20 minutes of extra footage and including pages from the fictional book “The Philosophy of Time Travel,”  was released in 2004.  It was controversial due to the added footage, which  caused some fans to complain that Kelly didn’t seem to understand his own movie.
  • Kelly created a website (now hosted at donniedarkofilm.com), which is structured like a puzzle.  Navigating the website can reveal supplemental material and backstory to the film.
  • Donnie Darko is one of the most talked about films on the Internet, with several competing fan sites and FAQ’s that attempt to clarify and explain the convoluted plot.
  • Followed by a poorly received direct-to-video sequel about Donnie’s sister called S. Darko (2009), which angered many fans.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  Frank, the six-foot tall man dressed in a twisted, metallic bunny suit, who only Donnie can see.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRDDonnie Darko at first appears to be a dizzying collision of genres, themes and ideas.  For the first few reels of the film, the audience can have no conception where the film is heading.  The director drops clues through these opening segments that appear at the time to be simply bizarre, but spark numerous “a-ha!” moments later, when incidents that seemed like throwaway moments or coincidences at the first glance turn out to make a sort of sense.  The identity of Frank, the demonic bunny, is the most thrillingly chilling such moment.  Donnie Darko creates a sense of wonder and mystery throughout its running time, and sparks hope and faith in the watcher that all will be made clear before the curtain drops.   It nests this expectancy inside a bed of genuine empathy for tormented Donnie and his colorful cast of supporting characters.  But perhaps the weirdest thing about Donnie Darko is that it asks us to take its plot at face value; it works very hard to try to convince us that what appear on the surface to be the hallucinations of a paranoid schizophrenic teenager are, in fact, real occurrences with a metaphysical explanation.

Original trailer for Donnie Darko

COMMENTS: Even putting the mindbending plot aside for a moment (we’ll come back to Continue reading 8. DONNIE DARKO (2001)