Category Archives: Teen Drama

Bad Turn Worse (2014) 3.09/5 (3)


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Rating: The Good – 66.9
Genre: Crime, Drama
Duration: 92 mins
Director: Simon Hawkins, Zeke Hawkins
Stars: Mackenzie Davis, Logan Huffman, Jeremy Allen

Three young friends just out of high school get drawn into a local gangster’s plans to rip off his boss when one of the friends steals some money for one last blow out on the town. Mackenzie Davis and Jeremy Allen White excel as the two college bound friends while Logan Huffman is wonderfully creepy as the layabout resenting been left behind. Dutch Southern’s script works hard to make this dramatic triangle the basis to some peculiar decisions amongst the three and to keep his audience off guard but aside from giving their actors something to sink their teeth into, he and directors Simon and Zeke Hawkins fail to properly gel their personal situations with the plot. They do achieve the lazy tension of a desolate town in the manner films like Blood Simple did but, at all times, the plot seems to run in parallel to the characters. Mark Pelligrino has the most fun as their slightly nuts but very mean puppeteer but, here too, the directors fail to reign in his admittedly intriguing turn so that it doesn’t supersede the plot. In the end, Bad Turn Worse (or “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” as it was originally released) feels very much like a pale imitation of an early Tarantino or Coen Brothers’ screenplay, more a creature of the mid 90’s than a modern crime film and relying on quirky performances to keep it interesting.

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Friday Night Lights (2004) 3.57/5 (5)


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Rating: The Good – 70.5
Genre: Sport, Drama
Duration: 118 mins
Director: Peter Berg
Stars: Billy Bob Thornton, Jay Hernandez, Derek Luke

Director Peter Berg and writer David Aaron Cohen’s adaptation of H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger’s novel chronicles the travails of a football mad Texas town and their high school team’s attempt to win the State Championship amidst social and personal pressures. Living up to the seminal novel was always going to be next to impossible especially for a (albeit) solid journeyman like Berg but there’s no denying this one just sort of works. From the bone shaking tackles, the swagger of the touchdowns, to the strategising on the sidelines, Berg does every bit of the game justice and so the audience will be suitably engrossed on that level alone. But it’s the team camaraderie and off-field personal tests that coach and players alike face throughout the season that gives this movie its substance despite Berg and Cohen presenting only fleeting snippets of each drama ‘s due to time limitations. Berg quite smartly uses the energy of the rough and tumble to exhilarate the audience and then funnel it into some rather touching moments of emotion when needed. It’s all very explicit with plenty of slow motion shots and uplifting score but, because of its honesty and Berg and Cohen’s success in binding us to the players, the resultant goosebumps are guilt free and welcome. Billy Bob Thornton puts in an outstanding shift as the thoughtful coach desperate to keep both his self respect and his job despite their mutual interference. But it’s a bunch of unknowns that fill out the rest of the cast and not one puts a foot wrong. Modest in its aims yet efficient in its execution, Friday Night Lights does what all good sports dramas should do and remains respectful of the source material as it goes. Nicely done Mr Berg.

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The Way Way Back (2013) 3.43/5 (1)


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Rating: The Good – 73.8
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Duration: 103 mins
Director: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Stars: Liam James, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Sam Rockwell

Endearing drama following an awkward teenager as he and his mother spend the summer at her cantankerous boyfriend’s beach house. While the mother gets indoctrinated into her boyfriend’s grownups-gone-wild culture, he finds solace at a local water park under the wing of its wisecracking manager. Rights of passage comedies are difficult to get right because there’s often an onus on the filmmakers to extract the comedy from real life. But as comedy more typically comes from exaggerated characterisation and circumstances, that is easier said than done. The Way Way Back has its fair share of exaggerations but so charming is the project and so easy is it to watch, that they successfully solicit our forgiveness for such transgressions. Of course, that much of the comedy does indeed emerge from realistic sequences (or at least the emotions they’re built around) and that those sequences are so perceptively judged and written helps a great deal.

Critical to this type of film is the script and cast and the former (courtesy of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash) is an honest breath of fresh air, rarely sacrificing the film’s sentiments for cheap gags or tangential comedy vignettes. The latter is loaded with quality from the typically wonderful Toni Collett as the mother to an against-type Steve Carell as her asshole boyfriend. Allison Janney is the crazy neighbour responsible for most of the wilder antics and fulfilling that remit to perfection. As is always the case, The Way Way Back is infinitely enriched by the presence of Sam Rockwell as the park manager. Playing a big kid with a big heart in a quirky comedy is meat and potatoes to Rockwell but his charisma is irresistible and sends a charge of energy throughout the movie.

That said, the real rewards to be found here are in young Liam James’ central performance and his relationship with Collette and Rockell’s characters. Charmingly awkward, entirely sympathetic, yet with a hidden strength he’s the steady pulse at the movie’s core. Collette puts in a gorgeous turn as the insecure mother and there’s so much warmth between mother and son that the movie satisfies despite the darker themes of loneliness. In that last regard, credit must go to Collette and Carell who work terrifically in balancing the tone of the film by maintaining an undercurrent of seriousness through all the laughter. Carell for his part is fantastic as the selfish streak of misery and close observers of this film won’t be too surprised by his more recent Foxcatcher turn. But as deep as everything gets into the adolescent and midlife crises departments, any heaviness is blown away by the fresh sense of fun that Faxon and Rash’s writing and directing bring to the party.

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Disturbia (2007) 2/5 (1)


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Rating: The Good – 73
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 105 mins
Director: D.J. Caruso
Stars: Shia LaBeouf, David Morse, Carrie-Anne Moss

Brash thrills, teenage angst, and lots of fun, D.J. Caruso’s Disturbia is a great tonic for the over-earnest formula pieces that have passed for thrillers over last decade. Shia LeBeouf is the teenager sentenced to house arrest for his summer break and forced to spend the days spying on his neighbours. On one side, we have an attractive young lady (Sarah Roemer) and on the other we have a possible serial killer (David Morse in terrifically creepy mode). Needless to say, it’s not long before he’s hot and heavy with one and carrying out a Rear Window type investigation on the other. With its hip soundtrack and irrepressible sense of fun, Caruso paces this one to perfection from start to finish and whether we’re watching LaBeouf innovate new 21st century methods for ogling Roemer from a distance or catching Morse in the act of murder, ducking behind windowsills or battling his adolescent awkwardness, we’re with him every inch of the way. LaBeouf was fairly untouchable in these cheeky roles in the mid-naughties and he carries the movie with all the boyish charm and ironic wit that, at the time, was promising so much for the rest of his career. Model-turned-actress Roemer is surprisingly spunky as the love interest and eventual partner-in-peeping while Carrie-Anne Moss (as Shia’s mom) and Morse bring some gravitas to the cast as the “grown ups”. There’s not much more Caruso and co. could’ve done to make Disturbia more enjoyably and though we had seen elements of it in everything from Fright Night to the aforementioned Hitchcock classic, there’s a gleefully fresh vibe to the entire movie.

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American Graffiti (1973) 4.53/5 (3)


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Rating: The Good – 79.8
Genre: Drama
Duration: 110 mins
Director: George Lucas
Stars: Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat, Harrison Ford

For those who (somewhat understandably) used the most recent Star Wars films as reason to doubt George Lucas’ talent as a director, this is one of two films they should watch that will assuage any such doubts (the other being THX 1138). An ode to the 1950-60′s cruising generation, American Graffiti follows a group of friends the night before two of them are due to head off for college. Lucas knits each of the scenes together with a medley of era-specific rock and roll hits which are intermittently punctuated by local radio pirate Wolfman Jack and he quite brilliantly uses the radios of passing cars, restaurants, gas stations, etc to ensure the soundtrack is a constant feature of the background. The fun of the evening’s adventures are had in a series of cracking set pieces ranging from drag races to that now classic liquor store robbery. On the acting front, all acquit themselves admirably with Richard Dreyfuss and Paul Le Mat scoring particularly well. Dreyfuss brings a lot of depth to his character and taps that ever present ability to strike up immediate chemistry with a variety of on-screen partners. On the other hand, Le Mat quite simply gives us one of cinema’s coolest characters as king of the strip John Milner. Unmissable.

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Hidden Gems

SubUrbia (1996) 3.71/5 (1)


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Rating: The Good – 75.6
Genre: Comedy Drama
Duration: 121 mins
Director: Richard Linklater
Stars: Giovanni Ribisi, Steve Zahn, Nicky Katt

Richard Linklater’s completion of an unofficial trilogy of films looking at the plain nuances of late adolescent life in small town U.S.A. is the most understated and indeed pessimistic movie of the bunch. After the ‘devil may care’ optimism of Slacker and the nostalgic charm of Dazed and Confused, SubUrbia (not to be confused with the famous and not dissimilar punk documentary of the same name) takes an acerbic glance at the disaffection of middle class kids a year out of high-school. Following a group of friends over the course of a night as they hang out on their preferred corner of a convenience store, the film looks at the effect that the return of a former friend, now a successful rock star, has on their night and already touchy self perceptions.

Among the group is Giovanni Ribisi’s “Jeff”, who is as close to a lead as Linklater gets here. The tracks to Jeff’s rut are the most worn and, though his rantings are often wearingly familiar, Ribisi layers them with just enough exasperation and angst to make them both funny and relatable. Ribisi always had a sideways charm (that’s probably held him back on the cusp of proper stardom) and it’s in these indie comedies where it works best. Nicky Katt has a (welcome) larger role than he usually gets and he makes the most of it as the twisted ex-soldier “Tim” whose depression has turned to anger because he thinks he’s seen the world outside his town and it’s not much better. Steve Zahn’s manic “Buff” is the only one of the group who seems content with a life of under-achievement and he is the star of the show. Achieving a joyous balance between verbal and physical comedy, his character is the movie’s safety cord, sling-shotting it back from the depths of post-adolescent panic on numerous occasions. As Jeff’s girlfriend “Sooze”, Amey Carrie has the most difficult role too pull off as she plays the only one of the gang with enough optimism to try to escape their rut but who’s barely hidden insecurities are repeatedly exposed by the cynicism of Jeff and Tim.

Whereas most directors would flounder in the earnestness of teenage angst or end up compromising the entire project with the necessary comic relief, Linklater breathes in one and out the other. Like Slacker, a stream of colourful and often disparate experience replaces plot but, through his skill as a writer and director, it coheres around character profile and some marvelously improvised acting. Drunk and stupid is not an easy thing to pull off without losing the audience at some point but so charming is the dialogue, so tangible is the characters’ inertia, and so impeccable is Linklater’s distance that it all plays to the central musings of the film and, with it, a generation of intelligent but under-stimulated minds. And having Steve Zahn’s improvised mannerisms and his remarkable but less seen genius for physical comedy in there hinders not at all.

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Prom Night (1980) 2.43/5 (1)


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Rating: The Good – 64.8
Genre: Horror
Duration: 92 mins
Director: Paul Lynch
Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Leslie Nielsen, Casey Stevens

Jamie Lee Curtis stars as the prom queen whose friends have been hiding a dark secret concerning the death of her younger sister years earlier. And now on her big night, it’s all going to boil over in nightmarish style. With its low production values and somewhat derivative story, prom night has been misjudged and unfairly criticised over the years. Yes, those two criticisms are fair but there is a strong screenplay driving this movie (kudos William Gray) which employs some clever structuring and original scenarios. Moreover, Paul Lynch’s taught direction gives it the room and time to breathe before unleashing the axe-wielding maniac. When the violence does begin, it must be said that Lynch captures much of it in memorable and innovative fashion.

There are of course some problems with Prom Night. Jamie Lee is competent in the lead but her character could’ve been given a little more to do (particularly during the final act) and the movie certainly does attempt to copy too many movies which were popular at the time (worst of which includes that cringe-worthy Saturday Night Fever inspired dance sequence). However, if watched with a forgiving eye there are plenty of strengths also to be appreciated.

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Rules of Attraction (2002) 4/5 (1)


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Rating: The Good – 67.2
Genre: Comedy
Duration: 110 mins
Director: Roger Avary
Stars: James Van Der Beek, Ian Somerhalder, Shannyn Sossamon

Roger Avary’s adaptation of Brett Easton Ellis’ novel is a case of the borderline gratuitous times two. What makes the film worth watching is Avary’s genuine talent for finding the comedy in those most debasing moments of self-obsessed human depravity. Rules of Attraction won’t be to everyone’s liking and there are times when this film goes over the line simply for the sake of doing so (such as in that appalling suicide scene) but it’s an interesting project in its own right in that it that shows the do’s and don’ts of filming in equal measure.

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Red Dawn (1984) 3/5 (1)


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Rating: The Good – 66.8
Genre: Action
Duration: 114 mins
Director: John Milius
Stars: Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson

John Milius’ uneven film has been criticised for being jingoistic and yes, there are some grounds for such criticism. There are also some spectaular leaps of logic and Harry Dean Stanton screams “Avenge me boys” without even a hint of humour. However, for the most part Red Dawn is actually a well orchestrated and even epic depiction of a fictitious invasion of the 1980’s United States by communist forces. Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen play two brothers who take to the mountains and form a rag-tag resistance behind enemy lines. It shouldn’t work but somehow this becomes an entertaining and sometimes touching examination of how life could’ve changed in such circumstances. Swayze and Sheen are charismatic in the lead roles and are supported by a number of young and, at the time, promising actors one of whom being Swayze’s future Dirty Dancing co-star Jennifer Grey. Milius’ and Kevin Reynolds’ screenplay can get clunky in parts but holds up for the majority of the film and there are some decent action scenes throughout.

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Lords of Dogtown (2005) 3/5 (5)


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Rating: The Good – 64.8
Genre: Drama, Sport
Duration: 107 mins
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Stars: Heath Ledger, Emile Hirsch, Victor Rasuk

As with all films that deal with a particular subculture, Lords of Dogtown seems to gain as much criticism as it does praise for its relevance or lack thereof to real life. However, judging it simply as a film, this is a well directed story that properly evokes a feeling of a time and a place now gone. It tells the story of the beginning of skate-boarding as a legitimate sport in Venice Beach California by focusing on three of its originators. The acting is top notch by everyone except Emile Hirsch, who at times comes across a little stilted, and the story is compelling and well told. Better still, there’s also a levelled but genuine warmth towards the principal players that gives this film the kind of substance that most of its kind lack.

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Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) 2.71/5 (4)


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Rating: The Good – 71.2
Genre: Comedy
Duration: 90 mins
Director: Amy Heckerling
Stars: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold

It has dated somewhat over the years but Fast Times at Ridgemont High tapped the zeitgeist of its times and remains an enjoyable glimpse of a year in the life of a bunch of high school kids as they deal with romance, sex, jobs, and hardcase teachers. For those who grew up on 80′s comedies, the jokes are bolstered by the sense of nostalgia but for those who didn’t those same jokes may come across as dated and weak. Its major strength is that the movie doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a bit of fun. This might not be the right tack to take when dealing with some of the trials and travails that the characters go through but, for a slice of teen comedy, getting bogged down in the emotional trauma of abortion or betrayal just won’t do. So everything is artificially sugar-coated and the audience is left all the happier for it.

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Elephant (2003) 4.12/5 (7)


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Rating: The Good – 76.5
Genre: Drama
Duration: 81 mins
Director: Gus Van Sant
Stars: Elias McConnell, Alex Frost, Eric Deulen

Maybe the most disturbing thing you’ll ever see on film but certainly one of the most thought-provoking, Gus Van Sant’s documentary-like depiction of a typical high school day that ends in tragedy addresses the disturbing phenomenon of high school shootings, a phenomenon that too many shy away from or simply don’t want to address. He gives us as objective a viewpoint as you could get from a dramatic feature and doesn’t patronise the viewer by offering any one theory to account for why these things happen. If fact, by the time the last scene comes to a close Van Sant is clearly admitting that he doesn’t know and that the causes of such catastrophes are so complex that it’s impossible to reduce them to the simple explanations which much of the media propagate. The killers are shown to be bullied but they are also shown to be cold and calculating and completely lacking in empathy. They play violent video-games but they are also quite artistic. Van Sant makes no excuses nor does he attempt to pass judgement.

Elephant essentially gives us the final act of a typical story dropping in on the high school students an hour before the shootings begin. This seems to prevent any desensitisation to the kill spree that might accrue as there is no time to brace yourself. The students in the story were played by actual teenagers who improvised their lines and the various characters are archetyped but not stereotyped so that you have the jock and the arty characters coming across as they actually would in real life. All this comes together to make the final ten minutes truly horrifying because what we see does not remotely feel like a fiction. The film won the 2003 Palme D’or.

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