FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

Directed by: Amy Heckerling

Written by: Cameron Crowe

(based on the book FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH: A TRUE STORY by Cameron Crowe)

Starring: Sean Penn, Judge Reinhold, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Robert Romanus, Phoebe Cates, Brian Backer, Amanda Wyss, Ray Walston & Forest Whitaker

Many screenwriters have attempted to create authentic teenagers in cinema, but only a handful succeed at constructing adolescent movie characters that feel real. Richard Linklater accomplished this in DAZED AND CONFUSED and most of John Hughes’s filmography was built upon fleshing out believable teenage protagonists (with THE BREAKFAST CLUB being arguably his greatest movie). Before his career took a recent nosedive, Cameron Crowe turned an experimental trip back to high school into a film with FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH. This film doesn’t work on a concrete plot because it mainly follows teenagers attempt to survive a year at the titular high school. However, it’s very entertaining, quite funny, and packs unexpectedly emotional punches that resonate with the viewer.

Times are moving fast at Ridgemont High, so fast that we see an entire school year encapsulated in 90 minutes. As I mentioned before, FAST TIMES doesn’t really have a singular storyline because the script follows a bunch of different characters as they progress through their teenage lives. Brad Hamilton (Judge Reinhold) is a senior who’s attempting to break up with his girlfriend, so he can enjoy freedom in his senior year of high school. He also suffers the daily indignities of working a fast food job. Brad’s sophomore sister Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is desperate to discover sex, as she receives advice from older friend/co-worker Linda (Phoebe Cates). Meanwhile, Mark Ratner (Brian Backer) has the hots for Stacy, much to the amusement of his slick best friend Mike Damone (Robert Romanus). Also, stoned surfer dude Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn) runs afoul of strict teacher Mr. Hand (Ray Walston).

FAST TIMES plays fast and loose with its narrative flow, jumping from Brad to Stacy to Mark to Linda to Mike to Spicoli and then whoever it feels like returning to at any given time. The film spends more time with certain characters than others, but the overall result is a cinematic collage of teenage life. Even though this film was made in the 80s and it wears that badge with pride (lots of good tunes, aged technology, and outdated fashion sense are present in every scene), FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH still feels very contemporary in tackling problems that teenagers face on a daily basis. I’d consider this to be one of the more believable teenage-oriented movies out there (alongside THE BREAKFAST CLUB and DAZED AND CONFUSED).

There are points where FAST TIMES pumps up its sexual escapades and comedic bits for big laughs. The stand-out of these light-hearted moments are easily Spicoli’s dreams about being a surfer in his porno-decorated room and his escalating conflict against Mr. Hand. These scenes are the ones that everyone seems to remember the most about FAST TIMES, not least of which as a result of Sean Penn’s hilarious performance. There’s also the sheer awkward laughs that result from Stacy practicing blow job techniques on a carrot (in front of an audience of her peers in the cafeteria), an embarrassing scenario that’s likely happened to everybody at least once in their lives, and more.

FAST TIMES isn’t strictly a comedy though, because the film does get into heavier material as it moves along. Friendships are tested and one harsh reality is faced by a certain character. Adult viewers who have long since forgotten about the drama of their teenage years will likely be reminded about difficulties they faced on their own and relate to RIDGEMONT’s characters more than they might expect to. Films like FAST TIMES serve as solid teenage-oriented entertainment because they feel real and also elicit empathy from viewers who may not fall into the intended age demographic.

What makes FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH so special is that the film never goes past the boundaries of reality and never gets too over-the-top for its own good. This very much feels like a slice of teenage life, regardless of the decade that it was made in and continues to be watched in. The performances from every cast member are convincing, even though certain characters receive significantly more screen time than others (one of Mark’s big subplots ties itself up a bit too quickly and easily). There are laughs and surprisingly potent drama to be found in the FAST TIMES that speed by in the space of 90 minutes. If you want to see a good coming-of-age teenage comedy-drama, FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH is well worth a watch!

Grade: B+

DESPICABLE ME 3 (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Action and Rude Humor

Directed by: Kyle Balda & Pierre Coffin

Written by: Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio

Voices of: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Nev Scharrel, Steve Coogan, Julie Andrews & Jenny Slate

One of three unexpected animated sequels in 2017’s summer movie season (alongside THE NUT JOB 2 and CARS 3), DESPICABLE ME 3 falls in the middle of its great-to-okay franchise. I feel that the first DESPICABLE ME is overrated and a bit bland, but has enough sweetness and laughs to barely overcome its many flaws. DESPICABLE ME 2 is Illumination’s best film (so far) and a sequel that easily surpassed its predecessor. MINIONS was an okay spin-off that had great moments, but was aimed far more at little kids than previous two DESPICABLE films. DESPICABLE ME 3 serves as an improvement over the first DESPICABLE film and its yellow pill-shaped spin-off, but falls beneath the still-superior second installment. This is a fun piece of family entertainment. Nothing more, nothing less.

Former-supervillain-turned-good-guy Gru (Steve Carell) and agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) have been serving as husband and wife crime-fighting partners for the Anti-Villain League. After he’s thwarted by 80s-child-star-turned-evil-villain Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), Gru and his wife are fired. Things look grim for Gru until he receives an invitation from his wealthy long-lost twin brother Dru (also Steve Carell). It turns out that Dru is looking to get into supervillainy and hopes that Gru will assist him. Meanwhile, Lucy struggles to be a good mother towards Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier), and Agnes (Nev Scharrel).

DESPICABLE ME 3 has colorful, vibrant animation. The designs on a giant robot and certain backgrounds look pretty darn realistic, even though these settings are populated by cartoony characters. The film also excels in its Minion moments. The Minions were the funniest part of the first two DESPICABLE ME films and they (once again) steal the show here. Their subplot, which involves them revolting against Gru and serving hard time in prison, is filled with hilarious moments and one montage that ranks as one of the funniest bits of the entire DESPICABLE series.

The film falters when it comes to the more emotional side of things. The first DESPICABLE film had Gru adjusting to a newfound family life and the sequel had a love-interest for Gru alongside more hijinks of him parenting a preteen who was developing an interest in boys. The third DESPICABLE ME forgoes any emotional arc for Gru altogether as his brother storyline serves as simple comedic means to an end. The only emotional moments to speak of involve Lucy Wilde trying to adjust to motherhood and Agnes facing a blow of harsh reality towards her wild imagination. The former only makes up about five brief scenes of screen time and the latter is wrapped up in the space of 15 minutes.

The series’ more grown-up moments take a backseat for a plot that’s very predictable and feels like your average kids cartoon. Much like the MINIONS spin-off, DESPICABLE ME 3 is aimed for a much younger audience and barely attempts to put the same amount of effort into entertaining older viewers as it does occupying children’s short attention spans. One positive quality that might give adults a few chuckles comes in Trey Parker’s 80s-obsessed antagonist. His break-dance fighting (ripped off from ZOOLANDER), constant reminiscing over a bad TV show, wacky weapons, and references might get an occasional laugh or two, but this villain isn’t nearly as clever as he could have been and DESPICABLE ME 2’s El Macho still serves as the series’ best baddie.

There really isn’t much else I can say about DESPICABLE ME 3. This film ranks higher than the okay first entry, but is not on the same level of smart writing and emotional weight of the far-superior second film. The vibrant animation and fast pace are sure to keep this fun for children, while adults will likely get a few laughs out of it. The Minions easily steal the show, but that’s always been the case in this franchise. Meanwhile, the actual draw of this third installment in Gru’s long-lost brother doesn’t make much of an impact at all. If you liked the other DESPICABLE ME movies, you’ll like this one. However, just don’t expect anything really special.

Grade: B