Archive for the ‘High School’ Category


This weekend I watched GROSSE POINTE BLANK again, for the first time in a long time. It’s eighteen years old now! It can vote! As an undergraduate film student, I wrote a seventeen-page paper on GROSSE POINTE BLANK — that’s how convinced I was of its greatness. I still love it, but I’ll try to be more brief here.



GROSSE POINTE BLANK has a perfect one-liner comedy concept – a contract killer accepts invitation to his ten-year high school reunion due to its proximity to his latest contract – and a sharp fit of a leading man in John Cusack, always the most cerebral of 1980s teen stars, who transitioned better than most into adult roles in the 1990s.



Cusack and his co-writers fine-tuned Tom Jankewicz’s original script and got the movie made under the direction of George Armitage, a filmmaker who works way too infrequently, having made the way-underrated hillbilly barnstormer VIGILANTE FORCE with Kris Kristofferson and Bernadette Peters, the somewhat-underrated (many cool people know how fantastic it is) crime classic MIAMI BLUES with Alec Baldwin and Jennifer Jason Leigh, and the most-underrated-of-all action epic HIT MAN with Bernie Casey and Pam Grier.

Armitage nails the unusual tone of GROSSE POINTE BLANK, a very dark comedy about a paid murderer who kills people for money and who is lovable mostly only because he’s played by that guy who everyone loved in BETTER OFF DEAD and SAY ANYTHING.


GROSSE POINTE BLANK is one of the best-sounding movies of its decade, which is quite a feat considering this was the era of DAZED & CONFUSED, PULP FICTION, DEAD PRESIDENTS, and FRIDAY. The score is by Joe Strummer of The Clash. Pretty epic ‘get’ there. The soundtrack is stacked with killer pop, ska, punk, and new-wave songs from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

The supporting cast is pretty deadly – Dan Aykroyd deftly playing against type as Grocer, an insane hitman and rival of Cusack’s Martin Blank, who in true capitalist fashion is looking to consolidate his industry.

Alan Arkin as Blank’s traumatized psychologist, Dr. Oatman, who is terrified of his patient and continually begs him to stop coming back.

Joan Cusack as Blank’s secretary, equally traumatized by her cuddly sociopath of a boss.

Hank Azaria and K. Todd Freeman as a pair of bored government spooks who Grocer sets on Blank.

MAGNUM FORCE’s Mitch Ryan — a Dirty Harry sidekick! — as the dad of Blank’s high school sweetheart (played by a very winning Minnie Driver).

Stuntman and martial artist Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, who probably has the movie’s single best line. (“It is I…”)



In retrospect, GROSSE POINTE BLANK is a bit less successful in its action-movie moments as it is any time it’s being a hyper-verbal, deep, dark, and truly bizarre character study. But boy, it’s not like we ever get too many of those. I mean, technically this is a romantic comedy where plenty of people get shot dead.  My kind of movie entirely. If I were making movies, I’d probably make one like this (though maybe not as witty). We flatter ourselves with self-descriptions sometimes.




And in case you were ever wondering where the name of my site came from, now you know!





Fire away at me on Twitter: @jonnyabomb













Megan Abbott’s new novel, The Fever, is in bookstores today. I just grabbed my copy — it’s rare I run out to find a book the day it’s released, but this is exactly like the excitement I feel when a long-awaited movie hits theaters.

Megan Abbott’s stories are dark in tone and subject, bolstered by psychological detail and impeccable prose. Her characters are unforgettable. This particular story is drawn from an actual case concerning an outbreak of mysterious seizures among a clique of high school girls in New York. To me, that sounds both refreshingly different from Dare Me, the previous book by the same author, but also of a piece with it. I’ll find out as soon as I start reading!

You can buy The Fever sight-unseen, in full confidence it will be excellent. And you can go get your copy signed this evening at the terrific bookstore Book Court, assuming you’re anywhere near Brooklyn.


Below is the brief appreciation I wrote for Daily Grindhouse about Megan Abbott’s 2012 masterwork, Dare Me.




Most writers dream of creating their own genre — Megan Abbott has actually done it.

Dare Me is best described as cheerleader-noir, and if that doesn’t sound immediately awesome and intriguing to you, then that’s my failure, not the book’s, and I should keep brainstorming genre names until I find one that justifies the brilliance of this darkly humorous and unforgivingly engrossing novel.

The story centers around a high school cheer squad, its queen bee and her second-in-command (the book’s narrator), whose accepted hierarchy is upended by a new coach. A power struggle, death and manipulation and paranoia ensue — if you’re thinking of teen comedies from the set-up, even the good ones, please don’t — this is black as pitch, unrelenting and upsetting.

If I had to choose a dream director for the upcoming film adaptation, it’d be Jacques Tourneur, but unfortunately he isn’t available. Natalie Portman is currently attached to the project (presumably in the role of the coach); let’s hope the movie does this unique and brilliant book justice.


Find out more at the official website for the book.





The Spectacular Now (2013)

Stories about alcoholism, if they’re being honest, have no heroes and no villains.  There are protagonists, and occasionally antagonists, but the antagonists are peripheral, really.  Authentic stories about alcoholism must ultimately focus around the protagonists and their loved ones.  A protagonist of such a story can be a hero at heart, but he’s living with an addiction, so his actions are rarely heroic.  They’re tainted, polluted.  It’s the addiction that is the story’s villain, and it’s an inescapable enemy.  It’s always there, with no safe haven to be found.

Addiction turns a hero into his own worst villain.  An addiction narrative is a suspense thriller, where the lead character is in a life-or-death battle to prevent himself from destroying his own life, and the lives of his friends and family.  Any other dramatic conflict, and there will be many, still remains strictly secondary in comparison.  Every tale of addiction is different, but every one of them can have only two potential endings.  The protagonist manages to stop, and that is no easy thing; or the protagonist dies.  Period.  Well, there may be a third option, of sorts.  It’s possible the story ends with the protagonist still alive, and embracing his addiction, but understand that this is a kind of death.  It’s a death of the spirit.

In the most generalized spoiler ever, let’s say that THE SPECTACULAR NOW, in its final moments, rejects the death of the spirit.  This is a movie with life in it.


And please take no offense at the fact that the opening paragraphs emphasized the male conjugation — they were written that way because this particular addiction story happens to be about a “him.”  Miles Teller plays the main character, Sutter Keely, an extroverted young man whose profound problems sneak up on the movie.  By leading with talk of addiction, this review of THE SPECTACULAR NOW robs the film of some of its shock — the movie was sold as a lyrical, regional romance, which it is, but primarily it’s the story of an addict, which isn’t immediately apparent as things play at the outset.  Sutter is outgoing and likable, with a stunning girlfriend (the luminous Brie Larson), a successful older sister (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, endearing and deep), and a single mother who cares about him in her seemingly brusque way (Jennifer Jason Leigh, in a rope-a-dope of a performance). Miles Teller has a kind of Cusack-meets-Belushi soulfulness and affability which keeps you on his side, even as Sutter’s screw-ups multiply as the story continues.  His philosophy, as captured in the movie’s love-it-or-sneer-at-it title, is to live in the “now” as opposed to so many people who fixate on the pain of the past and the worries of the future.  It’s an agreeable philosophy, but it’s flawed.  


Sutter is a high school senior.  He’s at that exact moment in life where people are most concerned with both their pasts and their futures at once.  High school seniors are at an emotional precipice — with yearbooks and parties, they celebrate and reflect upon the end of childhood, while on their computers sit college applications, resumes, and job applications, the entry tickets to the chaotic carnival of adulthood.  Sutter’s fixation on the “now” seems at first like a way of framing the present in a positive light, of appreciating the moment, but in fact it’s a dodge.  Sutter wants to prolong a moment that by nature must pass.


It starts with the soda cup.  The first clue to how substantial a problem Sutter has is the soda cup.  He’s never without it, in the car, at his job — practiced and committed drinkers know what’s in the cup.  He’s mixing booze in there, using the soda cup as a front to hide his crutch.  The acceleration is rapid.  After a whirlwind night of partying, Sutter wakes up one morning on a classmate’s lawn.  She’s Aimee Finecky, a sweetheart to whom Sutter never gave a second thought at school.  Next to Cassidy, his girlfriend, Aimee would be considered plain.  There’s a warmth and a decency to Aimee, though, as there is to Sutter, when he’s conscious.  Cassidy has been distancing herself (she sees the warning signs before he does) so Sutter starts spending more time with the attentive Aimee.  If this were the John Hughes movie one may have had reason to expect, the lawn incident would be played for broad comedy, a meet-cute.  Here it’s perfectly pitched, humorous but subtle, and the kids quickly move on from it.  Aimee, an introvert by nature, isn’t used to spending time with Sutter, an indefatigable extrovert.  She’s entranced.  She’s co-dependent.  She’s in trouble.  By the time she or the audience realize that, we’re all already in too deep with Sutter.


THE SPECTACULAR NOW has an impact you don’t see coming, even if you do know what’s in that cup right away.  Not to oversell such a delicate and genuine film, but it’s one of the best American movies to be released in 2013.   Credit is due all around.  Tim Tharp wrote the novel upon which the movie was based.  Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber ((500) DAYS OF SUMMER) wrote the adaptation for screen.  James Ponsoldt (SMASHED) directed the movie.  Jess Hall was the cinematographer.  Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, as the two main characters, play their roles with uncommon maturity and sophistication.  They are surrounded by an extremely talented supporting cast, including the aforementioned Brie Larson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Jennifer Jason Leigh as the strong women in Sutter’s life.  Kyle Chandler appears later in the film, as a character who only existed as rumor beforehand, and he makes the maximum impact in a few scenes with a perfect, knowing performance.  Comedian Bob Odenkirk, in a relatively small role as Sutter’s boss who recognizes a problem employee and tries to hang onto him as long as possible, is positively heart-breaking.  This is a movie where Bob Odenkirk, a monster talent who’s only ever made me laugh, broke my heart.  Wow.  This is a special kind of movie.


Making a good movie is a collaborative effort, done by small armies of craftsmen who have varying degrees of personal investment in the art.  Whether all were deeply moved to make it or only some, THE SPECTACULAR NOW feels eminently personal.  It’s told with quiet, relaxed authority.  There is a keenly-observed realness going on, just as there was in James Ponsoldt’s previous film, 2012’s SMASHED, and in his debut feature, 2006’s OFF THE BLACK.  Those films, though, were about young adults and middle-aged people grappling with addiction.  As terrific an achievement as SMASHED in particular was, Ponsoldt has found more unique, tender material in THE SPECTACULAR NOW.  The novelty of this plot is that it’s been de-aged.  Movies about drunks are almost always cast with characters gone to seed, nearing the ends of their lives rather than finding them at the very start. There’s still plenty of hope for Sutter. He caught this thing early.  Millions have been less fortunate. THE SPECTACULAR NOW ends on a question mark. Where will Sutter end up? Nothing is certain. But there’s reason to hope. This movie gives you hope.

Visit me on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

Bring it On (2000)


If you want to know something about me, I originally saw BRING IT ON in the theater — with my mom.  We both enjoyed it but probably for different reasons.  Something for everybody, I guess; you know how it is. 


Bring it On (2000)

I don’t spend a lot of time talking about cheerleading movies on this site.  It is not what one could call my métier.  As a human male with working parts, I certainly do appreciate the image of the all-American cheerleader, but I tend to prefer movies about monsters, werewolves, and fists being thrown, which is why I loved BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER so much.  Chocolate, meet peanut butter.

Bring it On (2000)


BRING IT ON arrived towards the end of a still relatively recent era in American movies, the late 1990s, where multiplexes were flooded with films about high school.  Some of them were DOA — dated on arrival — but BRING IT ON was one of the best-made of them, so I imagine it still holds up.  The director was Peyton Reed, making his first feature after plenty of TV comedy including the influential Upright Citizens Brigade show.  That’s a more anarchic pedigree than most teen movies had at the time.  The script by Jessica Bendiger is pretty sharp to begin with — it has great character names, one of my favorite aspects of good comedy scripts.

Bring it On (2000)


Kirsten Dunst, two years before SPIDER-MAN, played Torrance Shipman, team captain of the Toros, the team’s cheerleading squad.  Dunst is pretty mopey in the SPIDER-MAN movies but I imagine her performance in BRING IT ON is what got her that part:  She’s determined, energetic, and smiles in several different ways in this movie.  BUFFY‘s Eliza Dushku provides a nice, sarcastic balance as Missy Pantone, a new student who reluctantly becomes an important member of the team, and Jesse Bradford has never been as likable anywhere as he was here, as Missy’s brother and Torrance’s love interest.  Then again, I’m endeared to almost anybody in a Clash T-shirt.  Gabrielle Union is the best part of the movie by far, as Isis, the leader of a rival cheerleading squad (the Compton Clovers, brilliant name) who accuses the Toros of lifting their routines.  It turns out to be true, but it was Torrance’s predecessor who did the dirty deed.  Without belaboring the obvious, because the movie doesn’t either, it’s refreshing to see a teen movie that goes in on the issue of race and white America’s cultural appropriation of blackness.  BRING IT ON was also ahead of the curve on gender issues and homosexuality, as two of the Toros are guys, one straight and one gay.  If any of this were foregrounded too much, the movie could have been insufferable, but the writing, direction, and actors all play everything with a winning lightness of touch.

Bring it On (2000)
All of that is true, but what’s truly impressive about BRING IT ON is Peyton Reed’s control over the film’s tone.  The movie has a sweet, believable teen romance and a slightly more steely but still charming series of competition sequences building up towards its climax, yet it still manages to include things that could sink a different movie, like a bikini car wash scene and a truly astounding cameo by Ian Roberts of the Upright Citizens Brigade as Sparky Polastri, a choreographer who the Toros bring in as a specialist to help them develop new moves.  I would put this cameo up with Sam Kinison’s in BACK TO SCHOOL in the realm of hysterically bizarro outsized characters that somehow manage not to run away with the movie.  I’d definitely see an entire movie about this guy, though I applaud the filmmakers’ restraint in using him sparingly.


Bring it On (2000)


So while BRING IT ON is not normally my kind of movie, it ends up being a movie I feel kindly towards.  It doesn’t shy away from the question of sex appeal but it takes a playful approach.  It’s savvier and snappier than most high school movies, and lighter and funnier than most sports movies.  Of course I’m way more interested in the Gabrielle Union character than the Kirsten Dunst character, but this is a Hollywood movie after all.  Until somebody lets me write my own, I’ll take cultural transgression in any dosage I can get it. 


BRING IT ON plays tonight at 92Y Tribeca in lower Manhattan.  Take a parent and have your own mildly awkward experience.









If you get deep enough into film-fanatic circles, you will find us split into two camps:  The classier kind, who know director Noel Black for his 1968 potboiler PRETTY POISON, with Tuesday Weld and Anthony Perkins, and those of us who only know him for his 1983 teen sex comedy PRIVATE SCHOOL, starring Phoebe Cates (GREMLINS 2), Matthew Modine (THE DARK KNIGHT RISES), and Betsy Russell (AVENGING ANGEL).

Aw,  Betsy Russell.

As the “bad girl” who tries to lure Matthew Modine away from “good girl”  Phoebe Cates, Betsy Russell made the kind of indelible impression on legions of pre-pubescent moviegoers and VHS hounds that only a handful of voluptuous redheads have ever made in all of cinema history.  To men of a certain generation, Betsy Russell is our Rita Hayworth and her topless horseback ride in PRIVATE SCHOOL is her GILDA moment.  She may not be a household name, but Betsy Russell solidified a generation’s sexual orientations.

Doubtless she also sparked a number of film editing careers, since many budding filmmakers’ first experience cutting footage was our desperate attempts to edit Matthew Modine and that guy who played “Bubba” (Michael Zorek, a kind of failed Seth Rogen prototype) out of the many scenes where an energetic and enthusiastic Betsy Russell appears in varying degrees of undress.  I’ll tell you how much Betsy Russell meant to my budding libido when I first saw it – I could barely be bothered to notice Phoebe Cates in the same movie.  Phoebe Cates!  The Jessica Alba of the 1980s!  There’s maybe no higher compliment.

Now, the rest of PRIVATE SCHOOL is substandard PORKY’S (which itself is fairly substandard ANIMAL HOUSE).  It’s a teen sex comedy so resolutely horny that the sex-ed teacher is played by Sylvia Kristel from the then-notorious French exploitation film EMMANUELLE.  I don’t always recommend Wikipedia entries, but the PRIVATE SCHOOL Wikipedia page is pretty funny, since it boils down the movie strictly to its plot elements and really underlines how stupid most teen sex comedies of the 1980s were.  PRIVATE SCHOOL has a couple actors who went on to bigger things, and a couple who didn’t (life’s not fair, maybe), and it actually has a fairly decent soundtrack (including Harry Nilsson, The Stray Cats, Vanity 6, and… um… Phoebe Cates), and a couple of the gags are genuinely funny, but no one will make the argument that this is some underrated gem.

PRIVATE SCHOOL is clumsy, episodic, generally poorly-acted, and its prevailing attitude towards sex and pretty young girls is strictly of the leering variety, but since it’s the shuttle delivering an atomic red-headed curvaceous payload, it’s difficult not to feel just a little grateful to the movie.  It did, after all, contribute to making some of us the men we are today.  For better or otherwise.

PRIVATE SCHOOL played tonight at 92Y Tribeca in Manhattan, as part of their very fun “Back To School” film series. 

Watch me regret this one in the morning on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

Notorious cult classic Battle Royale has been making a rare repertory appearance on an American screen all week at New York’s own IFC Center.   Despite what you may (or may not) have heard, Battle Royale has never exactly been banned in the United States.   It’s an incredibly controversial work, enough to give the normally hardy and unflappable movie maniac (like yours truly) some hesitation at recommending it to just anyone.   But it’s never been impossible to track down a copy of Battle Royale in America.   It hasn’t always been easy, but there’s always been some form of import DVD floating around.   What is true for sure is that, as Time Out New York noted, Battle Royalenever received a proper theatrical release in the U.S.”, so this is quite literally a unique opportunity to see one of the most elite of cult films.

The film’s director, Kinji Fukusaku, had a prolific career in Japan, spanning forty years.   Battle Royale was his last film.   It was based on a novel by Koushun Takami, which has been compared to both Lord Of The Flies and A Clockwork Orange, and contains several references to Springsteen’s “Born To Run” (!!!).  The story focuses on a speculative Japan of the near future, where social and economic conditions have gotten so dire that the government establishes a yearly competition wherein high school students are selected and flown to a remote island to compete in a literal fight to the death.  This epic fracas is televised as a cultural event which all Japanese rally behind, and in so doing, forgetting their own problems.

If you read that previous paragraph and started thinking of The Hunger Games, trust me, Battle Royale will ruin you for Hunger Games.  As captivating as Suzanne Collins’ young-adult series (first book published in 2008, allegedly with no foreknowledge of Battle Royale) has been to many Americans – I’ve read and enjoyed the first book myself –  it’s hard to imagine that Collins’ more mainstream sensibility could ever have more visceral impact than Takami’s novel (published in 1999) or Fukusaku’s movie (released in 2000).

These Japanese schoolkids, quite frankly, do not fuck around.   Fitted with electronic collars that can and will explode at the whims of their captors, most of these kids go fully medieval, using AK-47s, sniper rifles, shotguns, revolvers, boomerangs, crossbows, machetes, nunchaku, baseball bats, poison, and hammers in their desperate struggle to survive the competition.  As per human/animal nature, some of the kids find they enjoy perpetrating the carnage.   Others fit a more tragic profile.

This material arguably suggests a more sensitive subject to those bred in the United States, considering some of the dramatic flare-ups of violence that have made national news over the past decade.   We can only project how director Gary Ross will approach his upcoming adaptation of The Hunger Games.  It’s well-cast, but is it possible that the finished film will be anything harder than a PG-13?  [NOTE:  I first posted this piece in 2011 and my prediction wasn’t far off the mark.]

This much is clear:   As a fimly-established veteran filmmaker in Japan, Fukusaku clearly felt little trepidation towards going all-in on this premise.   Battle Royale as a movie capitalizes and underlines the “ultra” in ULTRA-violence.   It’s stylized and cartoonish, yet also believable and momentous.   The body count in Battle Royale is uncompromising, and unrelenting, yet the film’s presentation treats most of the losses as weighty and hardly comical.   The sweeping orchestral score and intense emotionality of the majority of the performances certainly see to that.   Takeshi Kitano, legend of the modern Japanese cinema, anchors the film with a somewhat arch but generally sober performance as the teacher-turned-gamesmaster who is as close to a mentor as these kids get.

Battle Royale takes a pulpy, unfilmable premise, and turns it into a surprising, surprisingly well-written, ferociously entertaining piece of cinema.   It’s not a thing that anyone who sees it can exactly forget.   It was a massive success in Japan and its cult following here in America is formidable.  I certainly recommend that you try to make the screening tonight, but that theater only seats so many people.   You may have to fight it out for a seat.  Bring the fine familynunchucks.



For another take, read A.O. Scott’s great piece in the New York Times.

And start up with me on Twitter at:  @jonnyabomb

Now let’s go back to the piece I wrote about World’s Greatest Dad (on 11/20/2009), a movie which I saw as one of the most daring comedies of 2009, and as conclusive proof that you can never entirely write off anyone.  I rewatched the movie this morning and was glad to see that I can stand behind my initial enthusiasm today.

World’s Greatest Dad was written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, who has actually had a very successful TV directing career (on Chappelle’s Show, among others), but will probably always be best known as the annoyingly “Grover voice” comedian from Police Academy 2 and Hot To Trot (the ‘80s movie with John Candy as the voice of a talking horse.)

It stars Robin Williams, the comedian of remarkable energy and career longevity who has been harshly derided for his choice of projects for the past couple of decades.  I have always liked Robin Williams, but it is admittedly impossible to defend the majority of his cinematic output.  For someone who is that talented, there are a lot of shitstains on that resume.

In this movie, Robin plays Lance Clayton, a failed novelist who is stuck teaching poetry at the high school level.  He’s a single parent whose teenage son Kyle is a perverted, mean-spirited little asshole.  When would-be tragedy befalls the Claytons, Lance finds an opportunity to have his words heard on an increasingly larger stage.

I’m keeping the description as vague as I can, but trust me, this movie goes boldly into some dark, dark places.  It’s pitch-black satire that was amazingly prescient for this past summer, in the way that our modern culture’s tendency to sentimentalize the recently departed went into hyperdrive.

(Specifically, World’s Greatest Dad made me think of Michael Jackson and the way the public perception of him went from “creepy, nose-less, possibly kid-fondling freak” to “beloved, prodigiously-talented national icon” in the span of one morning.  Death was Michael’s single greatest career move.)

World’s Greatest Dad is unusual in its eagle-eyed observations of human (mis)behavior, and interestingly enough, as nasty and cruelly funny as it is, there are rare moments of weird and tender sweetness flavored in throughout.  Robin Williams is at his sad-faced best, and Daryl Sabara as his lost little shit deserves tons of credit for being willing to be so unlikable onscreen at such a young age.  Bold performances both.

I’m not at all reluctant to proclaim that Bobcat Goldthwait has a masterly command of comedic tone here; he navigates dangerous thematic terrain without ever losing audience interest or empathy.  Between this and his earlier feature Stay (released as Sleeping Dogs Lie), he’s got something of an auteur career going:  He has an uncanny ability to craft believable story development from shocking and disgusting inciting incidents.

He also has a way with music cues – the climactic double-whammy of “Under Pressure” by Queen & David Bowie and “Tiny Spark” by Brendan Benson provide a bizarrely exuberant backdrop for the thrilling liberation of self-destruction.  In a way I was reminded by the brilliant use of “Where Is My Mind?” by the Pixies at the end of Fight Club – there’s a similar nihilistic optimism at work here.  World’s Greatest Dad, like Stay (which felt like a strong warm-up exercise for the polish of the newer movie), both relish in the freedom that is found through truth-telling, as risky and potentially destructive as it can be.  Sometimes you have to tear it all down to feel truly refreshed.

World’s Greatest Dad is now available on DVD and can be seen on Netflix Instant.  Watch it with your dad.  (I did with mine!  Honestly, it was pretty awkward.)

Find me on Twitter: @jonnyabomb