FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 43 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

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Directed by: John Hughes

Written by: John Hughes

Starring: Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck, Mia Sara, Jeffrey Jones, Jennifer Grey, Lyman Ward & Cindy Pickett

With a series of 80’s teenager films that were made to be as smart as they were entertaining, director/writer John Hughes became the voice of a generation (that came slightly before my own). Even though it’s currently reaching its 30th anniversary, FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF remains every bit as amusing and enjoyable as it likely was in its heyday. Besides featuring Matthew Broderick’s best performance (which isn’t saying a whole hell of a lot when you consider his recent output), BUELLER is a light-hearted romp packs entertainment, laughs, and even a few genuine emotions into fast-paced 102 minutes.

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It’s a beautiful day in Chicago and high school senior Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) has no intention of going to school. After getting his parents (Lyman Ward and Cindy Pickett) to fall for a carefully calculated sick routine, Bueller sets up elaborate precautions to ensure that nobody catches on to his fake illness. With girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) and reluctant best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck) also in tow, the teenage trio drive downtown to live life to its fullest. Little does Ferris know that two people aren’t falling for his act. One of these skeptics is jealous younger sister Jeannie (Jennifer Grey), who becomes bound and determined to expose Ferris’ charade to her parents. The other is stuff-shirted Principal Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), who wishes to hold Bueller back for another heavily monitored year of high school.

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Will Ferris get back to his house on time? Will Jeannie or Principal Rooney expose his lies? Will Cameron stand up to his emotionally abusive father? Could this film only make sense in the 80’s, because modern technology would almost certainly ruin Bueller’s day off? To discover the answers to these questions and more, you’ll just have to watch the movie. It’s fairly obvious that BUELLER isn’t meant to be taken seriously. You have to suspend your disbelief as Ferris narrowly avoids many encounters with his naïve parents, Rooney commits crimes in his quest to expose Bueller, and Jeannie goes through a brief story arc that is instantly forgotten a few minutes later. Taken as pure entertainment though, BUELLER is guaranteed to keep a grin on your face.

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As mentioned before, Matthew Broderick isn’t exactly known for his acting prowess. He’s appeared in plenty of flops (e.g. 1998’s GODZILLA, 1999’s INSPECTOR GADGET, and 2006’s DECK THE HALLS). Ferris Bueller is easily the best performance of Broderick’s career. It’s hard to imagine any other actor in this role. Broderick perfectly captures smart-ass mannerisms, an honest attitude, and makes this titular slacker into a lovable protagonist. In a creative stylistic choice, John Hughes decided to have Ferris frequently break the fourth wall to give the audience his direct reactions and thoughts. These bits are used for comedic effect, but also give us a window into Ferris’ mind.

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Broderick’s leading role isn’t the only great performance though, because the supporting cast is especially strong. Though we are only given small details about her, Mia Sara shines as Sloane and has solid chemistry with Broderick. Jennifer Grey is so entertaining as Jeannie that I was almost rooting for her. This character also receives a fun story arc that isn’t quite consistent with later actions. Even though this might potentially be seen as inconsistent writing, Jeannie’s shifting motives provide the funniest sequence in the film (you’ll know it when you see it). Lyman Ward is unrealistically oblivious as Ferris’ father, but also receives plenty of laughs as a result. Jeffrey Jones is fantastically slimy as Principal Rooney, giving one of the most memorable performances of his career. In the real world, people would likely be rooting for this character, but Jones plays Rooney as a pompous scumbag and gets plenty of abuse inflicted upon him (usually due to his own stupid actions).

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Alan Ruck’s Cameron stands head and shoulders above the rest of these side characters. Though he initially seems like a straight-man to Bueller’s comedic hero, Cameron’s subplot (involving his father’s precious Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder, which would currently be worth around a million dollars) has a surprisingly deep conclusion. His complete story arc is akin to something you’d see in Hughes’ own BREAKFAST CLUB as opposed to a silly comedy about a kid playing hooky. Ruck’s final moments inject well-executed emotional levity into a film that could have easily coasted by on laughs alone.

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To cap off the wonderful characters, funny writing and upbeat attitude, FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF runs at a perfectly paced speed and never comes close to overstaying its welcome. You’ll likely want to watch past the film’s conclusion as one hilarious joke spans through the end credits. Whether you’re viewing it through the eyes of a rebellious teenager, a nostalgic adult or someone who’s just craving a good comedy, FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF is an entertaining blast from start to finish.

Grade: A

SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Graphic Horror Violence and Gore, and for a scene of Sexuality

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Directed by: Tim Burton

Written by: Andrew Kevin Walker

(based on the short story THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW by Washington Irving)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Casper Van Dien, Jeffrey Jones, Richard Griffiths, Ian McDiarmid, Michael Gough, Christopher Walken, Martin Landau & Christopher Lee

Published at the beginning of the 19th century, Washington Irving’s “Legend Of Sleepy Hollow” has become a staple tale read by many schools and a widely celebrated classic ghost story. Tim Burton’s approach to tackling this material for a feature film would take lots of creative liberties with the story. After all something that works as words on a page might not necessarily translate perfectly to a visual art form. SLEEPY HOLLOW made a huge splash upon its release in 1999 and (even though I was only nine years old) I can still remember seeing the creepy commercials and ads for it. Over a decade later, SLEEPY HOLLOW holds up as a fantastic crowd-pleasing horror flick and one of Tim Burton’s best works.

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Near the dawn of the eighteenth century, constable Ichabod Crane is tired of the barbaric practices by law enforcement. Enamored with new-fangled ideas such as autopsies and fingerprints, Crane is sent by his superiors to the small country town of Sleepy Hollow. In a mere two weeks, the community has seen three murders. All victims were beheaded and the heads are still missing. Crane is told by the town elders that the murders were committed by a ghostly figure known as the Headless Horseman. Ichabod is naturally skeptical, but finds out that the horseman is very real and lopping off people’s heads left and right. It’s up to Ichabod with help of an orphaned child Masbath and love-interest Katrina Van Tassel to find out why the horseman is killing as put a stop to his reign of terror.

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As with most of Burton’s films, SLEEPY HOLLOW is set in a darkly tinted world where the sun never shines. While this can be a little tedious in some of Burton’s other stories, it suits this tale quite well. The atmosphere captured the classical tone of an old Hammer horror film. It also isn’t necessarily taking itself seriously the whole way through as a silly sense of humor makes itself quite well-known within the first scene that Crane appears. The reworked story is a mix of a mystery and a supernatural slasher. One of the issues found Andrew Kevin Walker’s script is that SLEEPY HOLLOW can sometimes focus too much on the mystery at work, but also follows a traditional slasher formula at other points. It’s creative story, but also a slightly uneven blend of two different types of movies.

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Walker’s screenplay works on the general premise of Irving’s short story and taking it in whole new directions, but also pays a nice homage to the original tale during one scene in particular (the character is Brom is also included in the film). The fog-laded setting is brought to life by stellar set design and the film does work at transporting you into another world. This creepy tone is boasted by a phenomenal score from Burton regular Danny Elfman at the top of his game.

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As far as the cast is concerned, almost everyone does a damn good job. Johnny Depp has inhabited a vast variety of oddball characters with their own unique quirks. Ichabod Crane is a fine name on that considerable list of performances. He follows the predictable coward turned reluctant hero and gets a lot of solid laughs for it. Christina Ricci is bland as the love interest and the weakest character here. Orphaned Masbath is a close second. Unfortunately, they serve as his sidekicks. Fortunately, they don’t take up a huge amount of screen time. The side characters and other familiar faces (Jeffrey Jones, Michael Gough, Christopher Lee, etc.) all make their performances stick out in various ways. The real scene-stealer is Christopher Walken as the Headless Horseman (glimpsed in an elongated flashback sequence).

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Besides a couple of iffy characters and a mixed bag of two distinct formulas, the other problem I have with SLEEPY HOLLOW is that Tim Burton doesn’t know where to draw the line at some points. The film gets downright campy in a few areas (with some aged CGI). Back in 1999, I probably would have thought these moments were a little too comically fake as well. The movie does shine in its kills, nearly all of which involve beheading of some kind. You might think decapitation would get old very fast, but each death has its own unique spin on it (in one case, quite literally). The design of the Headless Horseman is great. It’s been said that the more you show the monster in a horror film, the less frightening it becomes. That’s not the case with this flick, because the Horseman looks phenomenal and is always intimidating.

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As the poster tagline states, heads do indeed roll. Your eyes might roll too due to some silly moments, two dumb characters, and a somewhat confused screenplay. However, the film works fantastically as a whole. It has held up very well over time and will continue to so as it has a rewatchability that most films of this type lack. It’s a spooky ghost story, intriguing murder mystery and fun slasher. What more could you want in an atmospheric take on an old-school horror tale?

Grade: A-

THE CRUCIBLE (1996)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 4 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Depiction of the Salem Witch Trials

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Directed by: Nicholas Hytner

Written by: Arthur Miller

(based on the play THE CRUCIBLE by Arthur Miller)

Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder, Paul Scofield, Joan Allen, Bruce Davison, Rob Campbell, Jeffrey Jones, Peter Vaughn, Karron Graves, Charlayne Woodard

Two years ago, I read THE CRUCIBLE in one of my college courses. I found it to be a fascinating look on the Salem Witch Trials and an equally interesting commentary on the McCarthyism era. It’s really surprising to me that this well-regarded classic has only been adapted into film format only twice. The first was a 1958 French film (ironic, seeing as the story is set in Salem). The second (and latest) movie is this Award-season hopeful that tanked at the box office and walked away with only two Academy Award nominations (neither of which were won). Luckily, a viewer can venture for something outside of mere entertainment. This same kind of person might appreciate a tough piece of art that is just as concerned about delivering a powerful message as it is telling an engaging story. In this case, the story being told is a fictionalized account of the Salem witch trials. The characters are based around very real people, but the play (and film adaptations) remain pieces of historical fiction.

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The film is set in 1692. A group of teenage girls in Salem, Massachusetts have gone dancing around a fire and committed some sort of ritual that might be perceived as black magic. Seeing as this is a Puritan community, dancing is forbidden and the possibility of conjuring spirits just makes matters worse. The girls in question begin to play on the townsfolk’s fear of Satan and accuse other residents of witchcraft, resulting in imprisonment (if they confess) or execution (if they refuse to confess). This is the kind of judicial logic we’re dealing with in this time period.

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John Proctor is a humble farmer who believes that God is good, but Salem would be a far better place if the citizens actually took his core teachings into their hearts. Abigail Williams, the leader of the accusers, had an affair with John and now seeks to get revenge on his wife. The court system is flawed and faith is deadly in this community. As more good people are suffering fates from the false accusations, John tries to find a way to beat the system and prove that Abigail is a vicious liar. The real question is how far he will go to see reason prevail and if it will prevail at all?

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THE CRUCIBLE is one of those rare movies that absolutely makes the viewer angrier and angrier as it goes along. It’s not that the film is awful (though it does have some problems I’ll address soon enough), but you feel for the dire situation that it’s presenting. The effect this film brought on me is nothing short of infuriating (much like the play itself). Arthur Miller was actually responsible for the screenplay and it helps that he’s adapting his own work here. Some scenes were added (at least, I think they were since I can’t remember some of these things going on in the play at all) and it seems that Miller was having a blast working in a bigger playground. A stage only has so much room for sets and actors, but THE CRUCIBLE plays out with plot points that are given sufficient time to develop.

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There in lies the rub of this film. At points, this movie doesn’t feel like a movie. Instead, it feels like a stage play. I mainly feel this came in the sets themselves. At points, the actors appear to be on a sound stage. We don’t see a rig or stage crew members in the background, but it has the same feeling nonetheless. The costumes are also a bit hokey and feel false. Again, it’s not like they look completely fake, but it’s the same effect I got from the set design.

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The running time also becomes an issue. Just because a play might run three hours long (given all the production work and time that you can execute the final product), doesn’t mean a film version should run even close to the same length. There are some portions of THE CRUCIBLE that could have been significantly shortened down or (in a couple of cases) taken out of the final cut completely. This might have made for a tighter running time. It’s a movie primarily full of talking heads, but what they’re talking about brings the real notable quality. The infuriating power that the story radiates (despite these technical problems) makes for a movie with an even more relevant point to make.

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All in all, you might dig this film adaptation if you’re a fan of the play itself. If you thought it was boring when you may have been forced to read it for school, then you might not like it nearly as much. Personally, I thought this 1996 film was stiff around the edges, but the material remains potent enough to make for a decent viewing. Fan of Miller’s work or interested in the Salem witch trials (albeit a fictionalized version of it), you will probably like THE CRUCIBLE. If you’re not a fan of the play and are being forced to watch this in class, then you probably won’t think too highly of it.

Grade: B-

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