Saturday, September 18, 2010

Cole's Nineties Crushes

I've been feeling nostalgic/masochistic lately so why not? To protect the innocent (even if they're not) we'll stick to actresses and performers I've never actually met. At least the pleasure/pain/confusion they inflicted on my fragile psyche and naive ideas of attraction and romance was nothing personal.

5. Tiffani Amber Thiessen
What I saw her in: "Saved by the Bell", Saved by the Bell Hawaiian Style, Son in Law, "Saved by the Bell: The College Years"
Kelly Kapowski

She's the least personal, facilitating her taking the five spot. Basically I got to know her through her portrayal of a single character, "Saved by the Bell"'s Kelly. Unlike the other entries, Thiessen (who doesn't use the Amber part of her name professionally anymore) didn't represent any sort of girl that I found relatable or attainable; she just represented a part of what her show told me was highschool. When I was a preteen watching this junk, I couldn't WAIT to get to highschool, where you were apparently never in class and absolute babes like Kelly walked the halls. I was too young to have really figured out my place in the social order of my peer group, so the fact that Kelly was definitely the type of girl I'd never exchange more than eight words with wasn't relevant. She was nice, she wasn't noticeably stupid and she was hot. That was enough.

What she's been up to in the past decade that I actually care about: Absolutely nothing. And she's aged terribly to boot. Hey, I calls 'em like I sees 'em.

4. Jennifer Love Hewitt
What I saw her in: "Kids Incorporated", Sister Act  2: Back in the Habit, House Arrest, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Can't Hardly Wait

A young and blurry Love Hewitt
What's most interesting about this entry is that during the nineties, I thought she was two separate girls. In the early part of the decade, Love Hewitt did three episodes of a lame show I watched on Family Channel called "Kids Incorporated" - a cookie cutter plot of the week show featuring an ever-rotating cast of preteens (including, oddly enough, Mario Lopez from "Saved by the Bell") who performed popular songs at their local hangout "Place" (the gag here being that it was called Palace but the second letter on the neon sign [SO MUCH FREAKING NEON on this show] was burnt out) - although I remember her being in more. But I guess I'll just have to trust imdb on this one.

Anyway, she played Robin and had what I then considered to be an absolutely enchanting voice. I think it's possible I watched the show for so long simply because I wanted to see more of her. A couple years later I would also watch Family's "The Mickey Mouse Club" nineties revival but neither Britney (Spears) nor Christina (Aguilera) made the impression on me Love had (I don't even remember Aguilera).

Hook Guy's gonna get you...
Flash forward to the late nineties - I'm a sassy teen now and girl-crazy to boot. I've also developed a taste for slashers (more on this later) and although I'd read my sister's copy of "I Know What You Did Last Summer" and found it yawnful, I was still pretty set on seeing the movie. Knowing the story was no great shakes, the filmmakers wisely elected to fill the main roles with extremely hot actors and Jennifer Love Hewitt (who at some point realized that just going by "Love" was retarded) was among them. I'm fairly certain this movie also introduced me to Sarah Michelle Gellar but my fixation on her didn't really kick in until the 2000's.

I would watch Can't Hardly Wait (1998) when it was new on video simply to get more of Hewitt. It, alright. Seth Green was there. Doin' stuff. I was aware that she was on "Party of Five" but let's face it: I had a crush on her, I wasn't obsessed (you'll have to read farther to get to that). No way I was gonna watch that.

It wasn't until a few years ago that I realized that she'd been on "Kids Incorporated". It's kind of interesting that I had two separate crushes on her bookending the nineties.

What's she's been up to in the past decade that I actually care about: Once again, absolutely squat. She's in the two horrendous Garfield movies, one of Jackie Chan's worst mistakes and a show about talking to dead people. She is still quite pretty though and can actually sing.

3. Neve Campbell
What I saw her in: The Craft, Scream, Scream 2, Wild Things

My all-time favourite survivor girl, Sidney Prescott
Scream was something of a game-changer for me, and Canadian actress Neve Campbell was certainly a big part of that. Wes Craven's clever sending-up of the very genre that had made him a household name still doesn't get the credit I believe it truly deserves. But hopefully the time when it is properly appreciated is not far off.

As for Campbell, who was actually twenty-two when the movie was shooting, her youthful looks and reserved acting made her one of the very few believable fake high school students I've ever seen. Her performance as the nineties version of the "survivor girl" trope won me over instantly. Sidney Prescott was smart, spunky and strong - but still innocent, pure and naive.

Neve gets witchy in The Craft (1996)
I recall that the first time I watched Scream (1996) was in Ryan's basement and there were several of us present. We remarked on how hot the girls who were getting killed were. I kept quiet though, because although her looks didn't compare with, say, Rose McGowan, in the mainstream sense, I still preferred her. Sidney came across as a girl I would have been friends with, probably harbouring secret feelings for her in a rather obvious fashion much like Jamie Kennedy's character, Randy, did.

I was actually downright upset by her role in Wild Things (1998), and couldn't stand seeing Denise Richards and Matt Dillon with their paws all over her. I still won't watch that movie today. She played an even more prominent role on "Party of Five" than Hewitt and, in hindsight, maybe I should have watched it since I could see them both that way.

But I was happy to see her return for Scream 2 (1997), since it was really her character that I was infatuated with.

What she's been up to in the past decade that I actually care about: Sensing a trend yet? Really, the only thing that comes to mind is doing two episodes of "The Simpsons" and neither was particularly good. It was just as well, really, as I've really no desire to see her now that she's older. I just want to remember her for what she was. Apparently Sidney Prescott will indeed be in the upcoming Scream 4 and I'll have to watch it on principle but at the very best it could only be bittersweet for me.

2. Claire Danes
What I saw her in: "My So-Called Life", Romeo + Juliet, The RainmakerLes miserables, Brokedown Palace

Highschool in the nineties - I was there, man
Oh, we're reaching mildly obsessive territory now. Unlike her contemporaries on this list, I did watch Danes's show. In fact, it's how I was introduced to her. The reason being that "My So-Called Life" was actually a very good show. Unlike almost any other teen drama I can think of, its drama was serious without ever being cheesy or forced. It could also be funny in a sort of devastatingly real and depressing way. So naturally, it only lasted one season.  As Angela Chase, Danes played an angsty, sometimes sarcastic girl torn between the loyalty she felt for her old friends, and the longing to be accepted by a "cooler" group, who were often trouble-makers. She also knew something about unrequited love, falling for a young Jared Leto who was barely aware of her existence.

I found her relatable (smart but insecure, disinterested in lots of things our peers thought important) and incredibly appealing. Definitely an ideal girlfriend.

Next she starred opposite the almost as pretty Leo Dicaprio in Baz Luhrmann's modern take on "Romeo and Juliet" in 1996. This film (Romeo + Juliet) features a scene where Danes is wearing a costume that has wings. Yeah, I was pretty sold. 1998's The Rainmaker then would have her as a bandage girl. The only thing she wasn't doing in those days was fighting crime and/or zombies in a sexy outfit. But she did play Cosette (Les miserables) which is still pretty cool.

What light from yonder window breaks?
What she's been up to in the past decade that I actually care about: Well, the only film of the 2000's I've seen her in was Terminator 3: Rise of The Machines (2003) and not only was that pretty lame, I also noticed that her looks were...not going right. As she's aged, Dane's somewhat angular features seem to have become more pronounced and, if you ask me, that's not a good thing. Honestly, you can joke all you want that I can never find a use for any women over twenty-five but just look at any before and after pics of her - it's true. She's lost her look and now seems downright ordinary.

I have a passing interest in seeing Shop Girl (2005) as it was written by Steve Martin and Stardust (2007), since it's based on a work by Neil Gaimon. But I really don't like seeing Danes now that she's older. Sue me.

(note: sometime in 2001 I saw 1997's Princess Mononoke (an amazing film that I own today) which stars Danes in the title role, but that obviously only features her voice and since it's a nineties work that I didn't see until after the nineties were over, doesn't fit the criteria for this list.)

1. Rachel Leigh Cook
What I saw her in: The Baby-Sitters Club, Carpool, She's All That

Rachel as Mary Anne in The Baby-Sitter's Club (1995)
It started in the books. My sister was just as much the voracious reader she is now when she was a kid and in those days probably about 80% of the stuff I read was stuff she had read first. Sometimes this veered me into strange territory as there was definitely some material that was more geared towards girls. The best example of this was Philis Reynolds Naylor's "Alice" series, which I continued to read well into adulthood. "The Baby-Sitter's Club" was a less successful endeavour. But I still read enough of them to become familiar with the characters. At first, my favourite babysitter was Dawn - the blonde hippy girl from California. But then I saw the movie and from then on, I only had eyes for Mary Anne Spier.

Of the babysitters, Mary Anne was the most caring and sensitive. In fact, she could be downright wimpy, often bursting into tears over the stupidest things. But when I could imagine her as Rachel Leigh Cook, those suddenly became endearing qualities. 

Ironically enough, Mary Anne was the only member who actually had a steady boyfriend - the chicken-fried Logan, whom I grew to despise. I should take my revenge in some totally immoral and disturbing fan fic.

Anyway I can't exactly recall how I wound up seeing the suckfest that is Carpool (1996) but I was delighted to see my Rachel in it. It was my main motivation for watching She's All That (1999) and I'll still defend that movie just to protect my sweetheart. Guess what, people? Putting glasses on Rachel Leigh Cook doesn't make her unattractive!

Sometime in the mid nineties she starred in a memorable update of the "This is your brain on drugs" public service announcement. It shows her desmonstrating the effects heroin can have on your body and your life by COMPLETELY FLIPPING OUT WITH A FRYING PAN. It was basically the hottest thing I'd ever seen in my entire life.

What she's been up to in the past decade that I actually care about: Hey, if she's in something, then I fucking well care about it. She's still amazing and beautiful. I really wish that the tv series based on "Fearless" (another series of books I wound up reading because of my sister) had gotten off the ground because Rachel Leigh Cook as Gaia = AWESOME. Apparently there is a tv movie of it that I guess was supposed to serve as the pilot so I really need to watch it then...go off by myself for awhile.

Also, her lovely voice can be heard in several otherwise forgetful episodes of "Robot Chicken" and she is the official English voice of Final Fantasy VII's Tifa which means a lot to someone like me.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Must-See Action Movies

Cole and I saw The Expendables this summer. This movie is a nostalgic action-fest hearkening back to the 80s and 90s, when American action films were about damsels in distress, explosions, cheesy one-liners and lots and lots of guns.

These are a few films from the action genre that, if you somehow haven’t seen, you need to get to seein’.

(For action movies specifically from the nineties, check out this earlier list)

5. Universal Soldier (1992)

Universal Soldier is one of my favourite action films ever, and probably my favourite Jean-Claude Van Damme film. What’s even better about this movie is that you don’t just get JCVD, but a double-dosing of manitude with Dolph Lundgren!

The film begins in Vietnam with Sgt. Andrew Scott (Lundgren) going a little off the deep end and his subordinate Pvt. Luc Devereaux (Van Damme) trying to stop him from committing atrocities on anyone that crosses his path. The two die in a blaze of gunfire, but are resurrected in the future – of 1992 - in what is called the Universal Soldier or UniSol program.

Lundgren steals the show in this film with his insane portrayal of Sgt. Andrew Scott, but it’s also a great action piece for Van Damme. He has several great hand-to-hand combat scenes, lots of gun-fighting and explosions, cool “futuristic” technology and some genuinely funny moments.

4. The Rock (1996)

I know what you’re thinking, “Not Nicolas Cage and Michael Bay!” Well, hell yes, because 1996’s The Rock is an action masterpiece.

This film not only has some big name actors like Nick Cage (whether you like it or not), Ed Harris and the one and only Sean Connery, but it’s also packed with lots of cool lesser-known actors like David Morse, John Spencer, Bokeem Woodbine, John C. McGinley and Vanessa Marcil, as well as cult stars Tony Todd, William Forsythe and – wait for it – Michael Biehn!

Honestly, I think people skip over this movie because of Bay and Cage, but you’re doing yourself an injustice. There is tons of action, car chases, explosions – Bay’s specialty after all – and amazing lines, not to mention some fairly great acting, especially from Ed Harris. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favour and watch The Rock. You can feel free to thank me later.

3. Die Hard (1988)

Die Hard is, in a way, the most “homaged” action film of all time. Taking the plot of one man secretly fighting a terrorist organization in a localized area to save hostages, filmmakers all over have made many successful movies like Under Siege (Die Hard on a boat), Under Siege 2 (Die Hard on a train), Air Force One (Die Hard on a plane) and so on and so forth. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Die Hard has to be one of the most flattered films of the last 25 years.

That said there are a lot of reasons to love Die Hard. First off, Bruce Willis. Not only was he your hard ass, bad motherf#&*er of an action star, but he was funny and quick-witted. Also, he was very human. Willis’ character, John McClane, goes through hell and back in this movie. He gets beat up, bloodied, his feet cut to ribbons, but he keeps on going. It was different than other action films in its time, and the appeal continues to last.

2. Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)

I have to admit that the Rambo series passed me by in my youth. I hadn’t even seen First Blood, the first Rambo film, until maybe two years ago. I was shocked to see it was a well-written, capably acted character piece. The only Rambo film I’d seen part of as a kid was Rambo: First Blood Part II, and trust me, it’s a very different movie than its predecessor.

Rambo: First Blood Part II is an archetypical action film. After First Blood (1982) the action genre blew up, and so did Sly Stallone, who plays the film’s title character. As a result, they shifted the tone of the series to balls out action and brought Rambo back in a big way.

They basically wrote away the fact that he became a one man army against an entire village in the first film and have him sprung from jail under the pretense that he has to help the US military out to save some POWs. For some reason they go through the trouble to get him out just to take some pictures, but of course he goes out of his way to save the prisoners, which results in his own capture. Then the movie completely shifts as Rambo hunts down the men who tortured him as well as the man behind the whole operation.

I really only have one other thing to say: Explosive. Tipped. Arrows. Go, watch the movie.

1. Commando (1985)

Commando is, by and far, the quintessential action film. A lot of people say that Terminator 2 is the best action movie and I’d say it probably is. That can be debated. It could also be called a sci-fi flick, but I’m not going to get into that argument. As far as action films go there is no other movie that fulfills all of the requirements of an action movie more perfectly than Commando.

The film stars the man himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger. He is ex-Colonel John Matrix – I know, what a bad ass name! – of the US Army and when members of his team are killed and his daughter kidnapped, terrorists attempt to force Matrix to take down a Marxist dictator in South America.

But John Matrix isn’t playing their game.

Instead of doing as the terrorists want, he manages to kill the men that are intended to take him to South America, escapes a moving plane and then goes after his daughter, killing anyone and everyone in his path.

My friends and I have a drinking game we enjoy while we watch this movie. Drink every time Matrix kills someone. At first it seems a little slow, but at the end scene of the film if you can keep up then you must actually be Arnold Schwarzenegger. The body count is astronomical. He kills everyone with just about anything you can think of. Grenades, machine guns, rocket launchers, saw blades; you name it, he’ll kill you with it.

To spice the game up, we also add a clause that you must drink whenever Matrix makes an amazing one-liner. You are one slobbering mess by the end of this game, because the stuff that comes out of Arnold’s mouth in this film is completely mind-blowing.

Commando is all the things you enjoy about an 80s/90s action film distilled. It has it all and if it’s somehow managed to dodge your radar then you need to go and get it right now. I’m warning you, because if Chuck Norris’ tears can cure cancer, then John Matrix’s tears can kill Chuck Norris and he’ll kill you, too.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Movies Where a Teacher has to Overcome an Unruly Class

You know this plot, you've seen it a hundred times and it's always the same. An unlikely teacher figure is called in to tackle a group of out of control students, and hilarity and drama ensues. I really have to say that I love these kinds of movies and I'll watch them without fail because they are comforting and familiar on some level. You're not going to be blown away by a great movie, but you will be entertained by a predictable and heartwarming film. Let's check out some prime examples of this strange sub-genre.

5. Take the Lead (2006)
In this film Antonio Banderas plays a teacher who wins over the hearts of a group of trouble-making students in detention and inspires them to love
education through the magic of ballroom dance. Based somewhat on real events the teacher takes it upon himself to teach a bunch of punk kids respect with the alluring power of dance. This movie is pretty weak overall and feels like a lite version of others you'll find on the list. There are conflicts (scoffing students, one kid getting involved in a dangerous ordeal, doubtful school directors, etc) but each seem too easily overcome. A highlight of the movie is when Antonio demonstrates the raw sexual energy of a tango to the students and immediately gets them involved. Antonio! Ees too sexy! ... But I must!

4. Renaissance Man (1994)

In this film Danny Devito plays a teacher who wins over the hearts of a group of trouble-making soldiers in training and inspires them to love education through the magic of Hamlet. I'm not gonna lie, I've forgotten much of this film, but all the key points are still intact in my memory: Danny plays a desperate business man that takes a teaching position to help a small group of undisciplined kids through basic training, they learn life lessons by reading and interpreting Shakespeare, and he looks incredibly awkward and out of place in nearly every scene. A highlight is when Devito rappels down a training wall and it looks like a cross between Cliffhanger and Willow.

3. Freedom Writers (2007)

In this film Hilary Swank plays a teacher who wins over the hearts of a group of trouble-making students in public school and inspires them to love education through the magic of writing. When Hilary takes on a teaching position at a new school she finds herself burdened with a classroom of "unteachables" and goes on to face a goddamn tsunami of obstacles. This movie is really really good actually, and the story is packed with staples of the genre: bad students, racism, intolerance, doubtful boss figures, divorce, murder, unorthodox teaching methods, and lots of life lessons. You care about the characters and the payoff is worth the struggle.

2. Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993)

In this film Whoopi Goldberg plays a teacher who wins over the hearts of a group of trouble-making students in public school and inspired them to love education through the magic of song. Out of any in the genre, I've seen this movie the most. We all have movies that we will watch without fail when it comes on TV; this is one of those movies for me. Whoopi reprises her role as "Sister Mary Clarence" and changes the lives of a group of students with her powers of sass and good sense.

While the class she has to contend with are troublemakers, they aren't in danger or as dangerous as other students from similar films, instead they are just a bunch of jerks that ignore the teacher. And thankfully, just like everyone in the world, they are all amazing singers with untapped potential. Sister M.C. (was that intentional?) harnesses that power and turns them into a bitching choir and ends up saving the school. The highlight of the film is the performances and shenanigans that take place at the state championship.

1. Dangerous Minds (1995)

In this film Michelle Pfeiffer plays a teacher who wins over the hearts of a group of trouble making students in public school and inspires them to love education through the magic of Bob Dylan. In a lot of ways this is the quintessential "How-do-I reach-these-kids?" film. It's got all the key conflicts and plot points, and it really handles all of them well. I actually didn't see this film until very recently, but I was impressed by how much I liked it and how it still managed to feel fresh and original even though I've seen it all before.

Michelle plays an ex-marine who takes on a temporary position teaching the worst class in the school and struggles to get them interested in learning; she ends up teaching them karate, appeasing them with candy and prizes, and then finally fools them into ready poetry as she teaches them Bob Dylan lyrics and transitions to Dylan Thomas. I really liked Michelle Pfeiffer in this movie. Throughout the whole film I felt tense and nervous for her, and I felt her frustration and fear as she went from one bad situation to the next.

The film doesn't end on a very uplifting note. There's no big dance-off or singing competition to win at the end. There's no graduation, or great moment of success. There are no conclusions of comeuppances for the people responsible (directly or not) for a student's death. And while the teacher did make a difference in their lives, the future for the students still seems pretty bleak and uncertain. It stands out for me as the best of the bunch among these films and I definitely recommend it.