The Night Watchmen could end up being the next horror/comedy cult favorite. There are admittedly some storytelling flaws, but the movie — which is kind of like a far more violent version of Killer Klowns from Outer Space — effectively mixes good old-fashioned carnage with a cheerfully kooky sense of humor. If you don’t care too much about plotting and only want to see some glorious cinematic lunacy, Mitchell Altieri’s film delivers the goods, and then some.
Baltimore’s favorite clown, Blimpo, has mysteriously died while touring Romania. When his body is shipped back to Charm City, it’s accidentally delivered to the offices of the city newspaper. The night watchmen, including new guy “Rajeeve” (Max Gray Wilbur), agree to keep an eye on the casket until the next morning. But Blimpo rises from the dead and starts snacking on the building’s employees, turning them into bloodthirsty vampires. The watchmen are primarily concerned with making sure the office hottie, Karen (Kara Ruiz), stays alive.
To give you an idea of how utterly crazy The Night Watchmen is, here’s one small example. The guys are trying to figure out how to slay their attackers. One of them shoots a vampire, who is tied to a chair, in the head. Blood starts spurting everywhere, so he sticks his finger into the bullet hole, where it promptly becomes stuck. And the victim still isn’t dead. The film repeatedly mixes gore with off-kilter comedy, making you squirm and giggle simultaneously. The longer it goes on, the more over-the-top things become.
There isn’t any depth here, which is the primary drawback. The Night Watchmen could have introduced the characters better and developed them more. For instance, playing up the idea that Rajeeve’s first day at his new job ends up being so perilous would have given the central joke even more punch. There really needed to be some kind of arc for the humans here, rather than simply having them try to survive.
Then again, if you’re going to see a movie about a vampire clown, the most important thing is that the picture provides a healthy dose of violent mayhem. On that count, The Night Watchmen delivers. It’s relentless in devising insane, tongue-in-cheek, bloody entertainment. In fact, this is a perfect film to watch with a group of friends who all share an affinity for such things. You’ll have a blast.
For more information on the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival and the titles screening, please visit their official website.
Amir Asgharnejad is a performance artist who released a series of videos several years ago in which he provoked strangers to the point of violence. They became a viral sensation, leading an energy drink company to approach him with a novel marketing campaign that was, like “Springtime for Hitler” in Mel Brooks’ The Producers, specifically designed to fail, thereby generating a ton of publicity. He neglected to tell the company that the videos were all staged, especially since they intended to pay him. Things went disastrously wrong. Asgharnejad’s friend, filmmaker Kristoffer Borgli, wanted to make a movie about these events. The prankster agreed, on the condition that he play himself. The result of all this is Drib, a picture that’s half-documentary, half-dramatization.
That set-up is really fascinating. Unfortunately, once you get past it, everything goes downhill quickly.
Drib, named for the fictitious company in the story, is an example of the current trend of “anti-comedy” in which laughter is mined through the presentation of absurd things in a manner that intentionally isn’t funny. (Some people get this approach, others do not. I acknowledge mostly being in the latter category.) There are plenty of opportunities for jokes — the way an obnoxious advertising executive (Brett Gerlman) attempts to put the unconventional Amir into a conventional box, the myriad poor ideas that cause the campaign to fall apart, etc. Rather than assembling these things into a humorous cautionary tale about the perils of trying to force something to go viral, Drib plays out as a series of long conversational scenes. Characters talk and talk and talk, oftentimes saying things that are either of little direct connection to the ostensible plot or belabor their point needlessly. That completely robs it of comedic momentum.
Of course, the question of whether any of this is true looms over the entire film. That’s another element Drib could have explored in a much more intriguing fashion. Asgharnejad is an avowed prankster. What if none of this really happened? Did Borgli have any doubts about the tale’s veracity, and if so, why not openly grill his subject about them during the documentary moments?
Drib is certainly an outside-the-box movie, which means it deserves at least a bit of respect. One can’t shake the feeling, though, that it could have been a really stinging satire about the manipulative nature of modern advertising, rather than just a rambling, unfocused missed opportunity.
For more information on the titles screening at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival, please visit their official website.
If the characters from Mean Girls found themselves participating in The Purge, it might look something like Tragedy Girls. This impressively ballsy, stingingly funny horror-comedy grabs you by the throat in such a way that you never want it to let go. And it doesn’t. The hazard of a story like this is that it might go soft at the end. Tragedy Girls never does. It stays true to its vision right down to the final second. That marks it as a genuine you’ve-gotta-see-it genre film.
Brianna Hildebrand (Deadpool) and Alexandra Shipp (X-Men: Apocalypse) play Sadie and McKayla, two high school besties who are obsessed with raising their social media profiles. In the opening scene, they kidnap Lowell (Kevin Durand), a lunatic who’s been killing people around their small town. The girls beg their captive for help in learning the ways of murder. When he refuses, they go it on their own, then blog memorials to the deceased or complain about local law enforcement’s alleged lack of community protection. Their accompanying videos and tweets do indeed garner them significant attention. The only hitch is Sadie’s would-be suitor, Jordan (Jack Quaid), who suspects something fishy is going on.
There have been other movies about characters doing extreme things in an effort to go viral. Tragedy Girls is different. Sadie and McKayla aren’t just looking for fame; they want people to see the world through their eyes. They want to be the commentators, to be the ones others turn to for perspective and insight. It’s a crucial difference that sets the movie apart, while also adding significant depth to the theme of how narcissism can become dangerous.
Humor springs from the contrast between social media vapidity and the seriousness of what the girls do. To them, only things that happen online have any actual consequence. This mindset allows them to carry out a series of gruesome (and, from a cinematic perspective, ingeniously designed) murders without blinking an eye. When one attempt to kill a classmate ends up taking some unexpectedly gory turns, one of the girls jokes that the death was akin to something in a Final Destination movie. Moments like that, scattered throughout the picture, help create the idea that these characters lack real-world insight, seeing things only through a lens of pop culture, Twitter, and Instagram.
Hildebrand and Shipp give magnificent performances, capturing the tighter-than-tight bond between Sadie and McKayla, while also perfectly conveying the girls’ warped sense of entitlement. Even as they callously dispatch of other people, we come to care about them. The murderous aspect of Tragedy Girls is exaggerated for comic effect, but the friendship feels very, very real. Both actresses give star-making turns. Craig Robinson (The Office) also does strong work in a small supporting role as a firefighter who wants to lead the charge to find whoever is doing all the town’s bloodletting.
Energetically directed by Tyler MacIntyre, Tragedy Girls is as provocative as it is funny. We live in a world where you can literally make a living just by posting videos to YouTube, and where being in the right place at the right time with a cell phone can result in insta-celebrity. What will this do to the current generation and future ones? Will they live only for the virtual world and sacrifice the real one? Can they accept that their thoughts and ideas still have value, even if the whole world isn’t paying attention to them? Tragedy Girls, in a bit of horror even more disturbing than any of the onscreen murders, suggests that too many young people are already on the wrong path.
If you’re a fan of horror-comedies, do not miss this ambitious, massively entertaining movie.
(*** 1/2 out of four)
For more information on the Fantasia International Film Festival and the titles screening this year, please visit their official website.
Let’s get something out of the way: that headline is utter nonsense. Christopher Nolan is far from being Hollywood’s weakest filmmaker. He’s one of the most interesting and innovative directors working today.
But here’s a question: Why did you decide to read this article? Were you curious to see a well-reasoned, intelligent, and provocative opinion expressed by someone who makes a living assessing movies? Were you open to hearing a different point of view regarding a prominent figure in cinema? If so, congratulations. You are a mature and thoughtful adult. Also, I’m sorry to have misled you.
How about the rest of you? Were you planning to hate-read this? In the two seconds it took to click the link and wait for the page to load, were you revving up and trying to formulate the devastating insults that would shame whatever moron wrote it? If that’s the case, stop it. You are doing it all wrong. You are killing the discussion of film online. Literally killing it.
These days, more and more people are attacking film critics and writers who have unpopular opinions, and it’s happening again with the release of Nolan’s Dunkirk. In addition to Nolan’s work, criticizing DC and Marvel movies or “breaking” a perfect score at Rotten Tomatoes are among the things that can bring on the abuse. I’ve personally been a victim of this. (See Exhibit A.) Some critics have received death threats. (Behold Exhibit B.) Female writers routinely get called vulgar names, and sometimes receive threats of rape and sexual assault, as well. I am not making that up.(Witness Exhibit C.)
Let’s make something unequivocally clear: If your first instinct is to threaten to harm someone — or to encourage them to harm themselves — simply because they have a different opinion of a movie, you are a bad person and should seek professional help immediately. I mean that. You’re sick. There is something wrong with you. What kind of person becomes so unglued over one publicly-expressed opinion of a movie that he or she feels the need to become aggressive to a stranger? That’s not normal.
If you wouldn’t go that far but would hurl insults, you may not necessarily be a bad person, but you’re definitely a bad fan. Any kind of art is meant to be discussed and debated. Dissent, disagreement, and analysis are an essential and vital ingredient. Trying to suppress those things does an immense disservice to the film you supposedly love. You are not a better fan for trying to take down someone who disagrees with you. You are a worse fan, make no mistake. If you truly loved the movie, you’d welcome honest, open exploration of its merits and flaws.
You’re also a bad fan because you offer nothing of substance. Any true fan should be able to defend their beloved movie with grace, offering up thoughtful rebuttals or worthwhile insights. Calling names and issuing threats only reveals that you don’t have the intellectual capacity to add anything of value. You’re the problem, not the writer. They’ve got something; you’ve got nothing.
Conversation about movies needs to become more civil and respectful online. It’s getting to the point where the trolls are taking over. That’s a shame. The internet is a valuable tool for connecting to people all over the world who share your interests. Insularity is not healthy, though. This idea applies to things other than film, of course, but the hostility seems to be particularly rampant on that count. It needs to stop. Your life will not be worse if a writer dislikes a comic book movie or fails to appreciate a Christopher Nolan picture in the way you think they should.
The bottom line is as simple as five words: Grow up or shut up.
Graham Skipper and Chase Williamson starred together in Beyond the Gates, a massively entertaining old school horror flick centered around nostalgia for VHS board games. They reunite for Sequence Break — the former as writer/director, the latter as leading man. Like their previous collaboration, it also has a heavy nostalgia factor. At the center of this visually arresting chiller is a mysterious arcade game.
Oz (Williamson) repairs old machines at a videogame shop. One evening, he discovers a circuit board that he’s never seen around before. Out of curiosity, he hooks it up to a game cabinet and starts playing. Immediately afterward, Oz starts having bizarre hallucinations. The game keeps luring him back, which gets in the way of his new relationship with fellow arcade enthusiast Tess (Fabianne Therese). Eventually, it becomes clear that the game is evil and must be defeated. The only way to do this is to have a “sequence break,” an act in which the player essentially violates the order of the game.
Sequence Break is like Tron meets David Cronenberg’s Videodrome. As with Disney’s ’80s cult favorite, it’s about a man fighting a videogame. And like the video equipment in Cronenberg’s landmark film, the game Oz plays comes alive, with a sexual element emerging. The joystick becomes fleshy and oozy in his hand as he caresses it. His finger plunges erotically into the button, while orgasmic noises are heard emanating from the machine. The inner workings of the game pulsate as he plays. We sense that it is luring him in both hypnotically and erotically. It’s a delightfully provocative depiction of the addictive nature of videogames.
To spoil anything else that happens would be unfair. What’s important is that Williamson and Therese give solid performances that bring some humanity to the otherworldly events. As director, Skipper employs all manner of visual tricks to create an ambiance of danger. Lighting effects, editing techniques, onscreen gaming graphics, and some creatively rendered shots of things bursting out of the machine and onto (or into) Oz combine to craft a film that’s entertaining for its unpredictable nature. The grand finale, in particular, goes into deliriously weird territory, in the best possible way.
At 75 minutes, the film could have used a little more story development; the “rules” of how the game works its dark magic and how, specifically, Oz attempts to beat it are never quite clear. Clarifying those things more would have kicked it all up another notch. That aside, Sequence Break is the kind of imaginative, risk-taking horror that’s always thrilling to behold.
For more on the Fantasia International Film Festival and the titles screening this year, visit their official website.
It’s a cliche to say that a thriller gets under your skin, but that turn of phrase is wholly appropriate when discussing Replace. Norbert Keil’s film (co-written with Hardware‘s Richard Stanley) is about a beautiful young woman named Kira, played by Rebecca Forsythe. She has intermittent episodes of amnesia, as well as an unexplained disorder that causes her skin to rot. Kira visits Dr. Crober (Barbara Crampton), a skin-care specialist who vows to get to the bottom of things.
Unfortunately, Kira’s problem gets worse, not better. It starts at her hands before spreading to her face, back, and chest. She accidentally discovers that placing skin from another body over her affected areas can help them heal. The manner in which she obtains healthy skin and the revelation about what has caused her ailment are truly the stuff of horror.
Replace is a story about the perils of vanity. Kira is so obsessed with her beauty that she starts to take unconscionable steps toward maintaining it. The rotting skin bothers her not because it’s indicative of a health issue, but because she dislikes the way it makes her look. This is a rare horror movie in which the protagonist is also, in many respects, her own villain. Her behavior in the face of this condition, and not the condition itself, is the thing that could ultimately bring about her doom.
Keil uses sleek, atmospheric visuals and some intentionally jumbled flashbacks (i.e. Kira’s vague memories) to create the eerie mood in which the story unfolds. The dreamlike vibe makes Replace just a tad confusing in spots, although if you stick with it, everything makes sense in the end.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the movie is that it doesn’t travel a predictable route. Scenes of the character peeling off her own skin, or the skin of others, definitely have a strong visceral effect, just as you would expect in horror fare. The second half, however, goes into some surprisingly emotional territory, as Kira’s love for her neighbor Sophia (Lucie Aron) grows, and as she uncovers some startling secrets about her life. Replace definitely provides chills, yet it’s the way the story explores the internal damage Kira suffers from that really makes it resonate.
Rebecca Forsythe is outstanding, as is Barbara Crampton, who continues a recent hot streak of innovative genre films that also includes Abner Pastoll’s Road Games, Ted Geoghegan’s We Are Still Here, and Jackson Stewart’s Beyond the Gates. To say much about Dr. Crober here would be a spoiler, so let’s just say that Crampton brings the exact right touch to a character who is, for her own reasons, just as obsessed with beauty as Kira.
Replace is stylish and substantive, making you shudder on a regular basis while also offering an insightful statement about how being too consumed with one’s own appearance can be a big step on the road to hell.
For more information on the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival and the titles screening this year, please visit their official website.
The Honor Farm is a coming-of-age tale told in the horror format. Lucy (Olivia Applegate) is excited for prom. She intends to lose her virginity to her boyfriend on this most magical of nights. When he gets sloppy drunk and makes a fool of himself, Lucy and friend Annie (Katie Folger) accept a random invitation from some punk girls to go into the woods, do some mushrooms with their guy friends, then seek out an old prison work farm that is allegedly a popular place to carry out Satanic rituals. The experience ends up changing her life.
Director Karen Skloss amps up the psychedelia with some trippy visuals and editing techniques so that you aren’t entirely sure for a while whether the horrific things Lucy sees at the work farm are real or merely a ‘shroom-induced hallucination.The approach is very effective, especially once the gang stumbles across what appears to be a human sacrifice about to take place.
Applegate gives a nice, nuanced performance as the good girl who impulsively decides to take a one-time walk on the wild side, only to be surprised by what it offers. The Honor Farm has a sharp, satiric suggestion that prom is a ritual not unlike a Satanic rite — pointlessly messy and really just kind of evil. The story’s ending is subtle, but if you pay close attention, you’ll find a message about non-conformity to high school expectations and traditions that would make John Hughes proud.
Running just 75 minutes (including end credits), The Honor Farm could have fleshed out its ideas even more. Still, this is a stylish, well-acted, and unique take on what it means to face that time in your life when you’re right on the cusp of adulthood and frightened by what the transition might entail, but also eager to take that scary leap into the unknown.
For more on the Fantasia International Film Festival and the movies screening this year, please visit their official website.
When I was in my early twenties, I spent a year working at a Hallmark card store in a Shippensburg, PA strip mall. Most of the other employees were female students from the local university. There was an older woman who also worked there. She and I were on the day shift together a lot. A young African-American man got hired at the store. The older woman told me that she couldn’t believe they would hire him. I asked why. “Because of all the young girls who work here,” she replied, implying that he might be prone to raping them.
I angrily told this woman that her comment was racist and that she should “never say that bullshit around me again.” Obviously, I’m not afraid of confrontation when I’m presented with something I find morally objectionable.
The 2016 presidential election reminded me of that incident. As you might guess, the outcome has been a real challenge for me. I am not anti-Republican. Many friends and family members are Republicans. I myself was a registered Republican at one point in my life, although that was largely so I could vote for my father in the primary of a local election. I am not upset that my “side” didn’t win this year. Had any other GOP nominee beaten Hillary Clinton (who, incidentally, was nowhere near my first choice to be our Democratic candidate), I would have been disappointed, but not filled with the fear and anxiety that gripped me this past Tuesday as I watched results roll in on CNN.
I am, however, virulently anti-Trump. I won’t go into the specifics. If you’re anti-Trump too, you already know why. If not, I probably won’t convince you to join my way of thinking. (That said, please consider reading this piece for a calm, reasoned explanation of what I, and many others, are so upset about.) My social media feeds have been less about movies this week and more about politics. Focusing on anything else has been difficult. Many friends and followers have supported these thoughts. Others have told me to “get over it” or “move on.” Well, those things really aren’t in the cards for me.
And yet, as despondent as part of me feels, there has been a surprising sense of optimism creeping in. Not optimism that Trump will do a good job — he’s been crystal clear about his policies, many of which will directly hurt people I love and care about — but optimism that I am not helpless in any of this.
My wife and I are the adoptive parents of a bi-racial child. We’ve worked hard to teach him that racism is bad, that people of all colors are beautiful, and that he should never, ever be ashamed of who he is. We’ve taught him that women are not objects here to serve men, that the religions of other people should be respected even if different from our own, and that gay people have just as much right to love and be loved as straight people. These are just a few of the lessons we’ve been working to instill in him.
Having a president-elect with a long history of racism, multiple accusations of sexual assault against him, and a running mate who believes gay people can be “cured” through conversion therapy is a bitter pill to swallow. But you know what? We don’t have to stop teaching the lessons just because Trump was rewarded for things we find repellent. And if anything, this is an opportunity to show our son how to stand up and fight against bullying, bigotry, and intolerance of any sort. We’ll never have a better “teachable moment.”
Over the last 48 hours, I’ve been thinking a great deal about how I’m going to handle this election. There’s still a lot of rumination going on, but a few ideas have solidified. First, I’m going to continue to use my voice. It’s the only weapon I have, and I’ll wear it out if need be. If the Trump administration tries to enact legislation that is going to hurt people, I will write letters, circulate petitions, call my state representatives, and disseminate information through social media. I’ll even peacefully demonstrate if necessary. The right to do these things is inherent in the First Amendment. Our forefathers put them there for us to use. You’re damn right I’m using them.
I’m also going to get more involved in my community. I reside in a predominantly white area. That has gradually been changing over the last few years. The vast majority of folks here are kind and compassionate. There are also some bigots. If I see anyone being harassed because of their race, religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation, I will intervene.
I am in the process of looking into organizations I can join in my area that will advance the causes I believe in: equality for everyone, aid to the poor, protecting women from abuse, and so on. I’ve already done a few small things through my church. I am going to do more.
Through these and other yet-to-be-decided means, my wife and I going to ensure that our son learns the lessons we want him to learn. And one of the biggest of those lessons is that when our family witnesses injustice, we don’t look the other way — we do something about it.
There’s been a lot of back-and-forth animosity between Trump supporters and Trump opponents. I vow to avoid the temptation to jump into that fray, because it will only detract from the work that needs to be done. Whether I approve of the president or not, I can instill my deeply held values in my son. I can work to make my community a better place that reflects my ideals. I can raise my voice for causes I feel are just.
That’s what I intend to do. And believe me, I’m just getting warmed up.
What you may not know — or remember — is that Donald J. Trump also dipped his toe into the waters of acting. He has a number of prominent motion picture credits on his resume. This invariably leads to one question: Based solely on his film work, is Donald J. Trump really qualified to become the President of the United States of America? Let’s look at five of his performances to find out.
1. Ghosts Can’t Do It
Trump’s first big screen foray was in 1990’s Ghosts Can’t Do It, an intended showcase for Bo Derek that was written and directed by her husband John. It’s the story of an old man (Anthony Quinn) married to a much younger woman. He commits suicide, then returns as a ghost to convince his wife to kill a younger man so that he can inhabit the body and be with her (sexually) again. Trump appears as himself in a scene in which Derek conducts a business negotiation with help from beyond the grave. Here’s a look at him in action.
As you can see, Trump’s performance is incredibly stiff. He looks like he’s focused more on how badly he’d like to get Bo Derek in the sack than he is in giving an authentic performance. (This is probably true, given his acknowledged fondness for having affairs with married women.) In fact, he’s so bad — playing himself, no less — that he was awarded the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actor of 1990. Ghosts Can’t Do It also won the Razzies for Worst Picture, Worst Actress, and Worst Director.
Trump failed so spectacularly that someone gave him an award for it. Not very presidential. We need a Commander-in-Chief who wins where it counts, rather than winning for sucking.
2. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
It would be another two years before Trump and his stubby little hands appeared on movie screens again. When he did, it was a cameo in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. In this sequel, Macaulay Culkin’s neglectful family once again leaves him abandoned, this time in the streets of NYC. At one point, he wanders into a Trump-owned building and asks for directions from — you guessed it — the owner himself.
The original Home Alone was a blockbuster that made $285 million at the box office back in 1990. Home Alone 2 was also a hit, but it only made $173 million. That’s more than $100 million lessthan its predecessor. By every measure, it’s an embarrassing drop. Like many of his business ventures, the film lost a lot of money. Trump likes to claim that he’s a huge success in everything he does. Home Alone 2 proves that such claims are bunk. I don’t know about you, but I want a president who starred in a sequel that out-grossed the original, not one that went so far under.
3. The Little Rascals
In 1994, someone got the terrible idea to update The Little Rascals for modern audiences. Trump was hired to play the father of Waldo, an obnoxious child who thinks he can get away with appalling behavior just because his father is rich. (Much like Eric Trump and Donald Trump, Jr.) The character is unnamed, but it wouldn’t be unfair to surmise that his name might be “John Miller.” In his short scene, he pays Waldo the kind of compliment that probably passes for sincerity in the home of a man who puts his name in big gold letters on every building he owns.
Aside from being a terrible parent in the movie, the end credit outtakes feature a bit in which Trump steals popcorn from the bag of the woman sitting next to him. Surely, this foreshadows things to come — a guy in the 1% stealing from someone in the 99%. Not a good sign, especially since he already thinks poor people are stupid.
Drumpf…I mean Trump…returned to portraying himself in 1996’s Eddie, a basketball comedy starring Whoopi Goldberg. She plays a limo driver who, through a series of contrivances, becomes the coach of the New York Knicks. Trump appears very briefly in a montage of people talking about her success.
Woody Allen’s 1998 film Celebrity is a black-and-white drama about a former novelist (Kenneth Branagh) who dives into the world of celebrity journalism after divorcing his wife of 16 years. Trump once more portrays himself, badly. In the film, he expresses an intention to purchase and knock down NYC’s beloved St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Yet again, we see extreme religious intolerance from Trump, only this time it’s directed at Catholics rather than at Muslims. Actually, it makes sense that Trump would appear in a Woody Allen film. They have much in common. For example, both are prominent New Yorkers. They’ve both been household names for decades. Also, Woody Allen married the woman who was practically his own step-daughter, while Trump has repeatedly expressed that he would have sex with daughter Ivanka were she not his child. (No really, he’s done it more than once. And he took this super-creepy picture with her. He also once expressed hope that 1-year-old daughter Tiffany would grow up to have big breasts.)
Donald J. Trump has also appeared in The Associate, Two Weeks Notice, and Zoolander, as well as on television shows such as The Nanny, Spin City, and Sex and the City. In every instance, his “performance” has been terrible. You want to build a wall around him so that you don’t have to see or hear any more of his pathetic attempts to act. And since a president has to act, well, presidential, there is no reason to think this orange-hued, taco bowl-loving narcissist will fare any better in that department than he did acting opposite Bo Derek.
Based on his film work, it’s safe to say that Trump and his little baby hands will not, in fact, make America great again. He can’t even make a short scene in a movie great. He is vastly incompetent, despite his own claims. His performances lack substance. They defy logic and reason. Ask him about them and he will sidestep the issue at every turn, in an effort to distract you from the fact that there’s no “there” there. This is how he has gotten by so far. And don’t ask him how he plans to tackle any future acting gigs, because he has no master plan aside from insisting that he will be great and no one else can do the job as well as he can.
The lesson is clear: Donald J. Trump is bad for Hollywood. Anyone who would vote for Trump with a ticket purchase is a fool and an idiot. You want to make America great again? Send him back where he came from.
It’s prom season. This past weekend, I found myself at a coordinated photo-op for students at one of the local high schools. We were there to see my wife’s nephew and his girlfriend, who had been eagerly planning this night for months. Dozens of other prom-bound teens moved around the botanical gardens, their family members following them, cell phone cameras always at the ready. There were good-looking athletic guys in tuxes and beautiful girls in gorgeous gowns. There were awkward kids who looked uncomfortable and ill at ease. There were rebels who wore intentionally dated dresses or accentuated their tuxedos with silly ball hats.
“It looks like a John Hughes movie threw up in here,” I commented to my wife.
That was a silly joke, but also kind of a personal one. I opted to skip my own prom as a high schooler. People have asked me why over the years. I’ve said it was because I don’t like overly formal events (which is true) and that I didn’t have anyone I really wanted to go with (also largely true). But the reality is both far more complicated and far simpler than that.
I didn’t go to my prom because of Pretty in Pink.
Written by John Hughes and directed by Howard Deutch, Pretty in Pink opened on February 28, 1986. I saw it a week before, at one of the “nationwide sneak previews” that were all the rage at the time. Basically, certain movies were granted one-off showings a week before their regular release to build word-of-mouth. By this time, my views on high school had changed. For my freshman, sophomore, and junior years, I felt as though I was in a constant struggle to fit in. I wasn’t popular and I wasn’t unpopular. I was just sort of there. Shyness and lack of self-confidence prevented me from opening up to people outside my very small circle of close friends. My guess is that those qualities were mistaken for stand-offishness by my peers. (One of my former classmates lives two doors up the street from me. I should walk over and ask if that’s true.) Furthermore, my personal interests were quirky. Forget football games or school dances. Much of my time was spent playing trombone in the school band, memorizing old Saturday Night Live and SCTV skits, or obsessively seeing every single movie that came through town.
Never quite fitting in gave me an outsider’s perspective on the high school experience – the cliques, the attitudes, the social strata. Hughes’ own The Breakfast Club had perfectly given voice to that perspective the year before, which only heightened my awareness of it. (For all intents and purposes, I was an Anthony Michael Hall.) That’s why, when I returned for my senior year, I decided to take a “screw it all” attitude. I did what made me happy, without worrying about how others saw me. My interest in playing by the “rules” of high school was gone. It had become clear that I needed to stop trying to do what everyone else was doing and make decisions that were right for me.
As for prom, I remained undecided. On one hand, it was a time-honored tradition. An adult co-worker at the drug store where I was employed as a stock boy repeatedly begged me go, saying that I would regret it for the rest of my life if I missed this right-of-passage — an admittedly scary thought. On the other hand, I’d lost interest in the time-honored traditions of high school. They hadn’t filled me with much purpose up to that point, so it didn’t seem like prom would turn the tide. I didn’t know what to do, and my feelings about it changed from day to day.
Then I went to see Pretty in Pink. As everyone knows, it’s the story of a financially disadvantaged girl named Andie (played by Molly Ringwald) who is asked to prom by well-to-do popular kid Blane (Andrew McCarthy), much to the dismay of her quirky best friend Duckie (Jon Cryer), who just assumed she would go with him. Blane’s snobby rich friends don’t approve of the date either, which leads to all kinds of dramatic complications.
Watching the film, some very clear messages began to emerge. Like who you like. Do what makes you happy. Stop worrying about what everyone else says. Don’t let anyone else define you. You don’t need to fit a pre-conceived image to have worth. The movie was articulating things that were already tinkering around inside my head.
The seminal moment, though, comes a little more than halfway through. Duckie confronts Blane’s elitist best friend Steff (James Spader), who has essentially pressured Blane to rescind the invitation to prom, leaving Andie brokenhearted. In an empty hallway, Duckie tackles Steff and begins pummeling him. The handsome, rich jerk and the eccentric-but-sincere outcast scuffle on the floor. Two teachers arrive to break up the fight. As the melee ends, Duckie runs down the hall, jumps up, and — with one hand — rips down a prom banner hanging from the ceiling, balling it up and casting it aside.
Here is that moment. I’m sure many of you know it well.
It is difficult to describe how I felt when Duckie ripped down that banner, except to say that there was abrupt clarity. I realized that there is so much pressure (from others or, even worse, from oneself) associated with prom. You have to go because it’s expected of you. You have to go with the “right” person. Girls have to wear the “right” dress. There can be judgement if you get anything “wrong.” Teenagers are pressured, or pressure themselves, into believing that they must have a perfectly magical experience that will be a high point in their lives. I neither needed nor wanted such pressure. I didn’t want to go back to feeling as though I had to do the conventional things in order to fit in with some societal notion of what a teenager was supposed to be. Duckie ripped down that banner and, no lie, I nearly stood up and cheered.
And the words that went through my mind in that exact second were, I am not going to prom!
My co-worker at the drug store repeatedly urged me to change my mind. I sensed that my parents were disappointed, although they accepted my decision. My friends were understanding. A couple of them had, via their own reasoning, opted to skip the prom, too. Regardless of whether people told me I was making a mistake or giving me a theoretical You go, boy!, I knew that I had made the right choice. I didn’t need prom to validate who I was. It didn’t matter whether or not I chose to take part in this tradition because, for the first time in my life, I had some semblance of who I was as a person. Nothing about prom was going to clarify that any further.
I wished my friends who were going to prom well and told them to have a good time. I was genuinely happy for those who wanted to go, even if the experience wasn’t for me personally. On prom night…well, you can probably guess what I did that evening. I went to the movies with two friends, one male, one female. We went to see the now-forgotten Judd Nelson/Ally Sheedy thriller Blue City. It was an okay movie. I sat in my theater seat, knowing that many of my peers were all dressed up, dancing and eating and maybe even hoping to get lucky afterward. Some were having the night of their lives. Others were probably having their hearts broken. (Hey, it happens at prom sometimes.) I didn’t regret not being there with them. I was at the movies, where I felt comfortable and at home. Where I felt like me.
Despite what people said, I’ve never regretted my decision to skip prom. Not for a second. Now, as an adult, I realize that I was right in the belief that it wouldn’t mean anything to me in the long run anyway. No prom could ever match the meaning of my wedding day, or the many magical moments that come with having a child, or any of the professional accomplishments I’ve achieved. It would have just been a thing I’d have done for the wrong reasons, out of a misguided sense of obligation.
I have nothing against prom. Many kids go, have a wonderful time, and cherish the memory. That’s great. But it’s also not me, and I had to learn that it’s okay if things are “not me.” Pretty in Pink helped significantly in that process.