Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Netflix pick of the month: FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH

If SUPER BAD was super good than FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH was super better. Long before there was Judd Apatow there was Cameron Crowe. Adapted from his book, Cameron’s high school coming-of-age movie set in the early 80s remains a comic classic. Yes, it’s similar in tone to SUPER BAD but the raunch here is done more elegantly. Equal credit goes to screenwriter Cameron Crowe and director Amy Heckerling (who clearly got it).

Sean Penn, known for being the most intense angst-ridden, actor in America (who has never met a scene he couldn’t have a screaming emotional meltdown in), actually gives one of the most inspired and original COMIC performances I’ve ever seen on film. He plays a stoned out surfer, Jeff Spicoli and every minute he’s on the screen is comic gold. I wonder why he never does comedies anymore. Did Madonna screw that up too?

Sean’s foil is Everyone’s Favorite Martian, Ray Walston as Mr. Hand, that history teacher who is so rigid he can crack walnuts with his butt cheeks.

Jennifer Jason-Leigh gives one of her earliest and best performances. She was really good until she started thinking so herself. A young Forrest Whittaker, Eric Stoltz, Nicolas Cage, and Anthony Edwards (with hair!) also appear. Not many teen sex romps feature three future Oscar winners (four if your count Cameron Crowe).

And then there’s Phoebe Cates. Some actors are forever identified with classic film moments in which they appeared – Bogart’s final speech in CASABLANCA, Peter Finch yelling “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” from NETWORK, Brando’s anguished pleas to “Stella! Stell-llla!” in STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. Phoebe Cates will always be remembered and revered for coming out of a swimming pool.

To me the only weak link in the movie was Judge Reinhold. I just don’t get him. Whenever he’s on screen my eyes just naturally drift to the extras or scenery, or film scratches.

But on the whole FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH is (in the words of Spicoli) totally gnarly. It somehow manages to be funny, serious, touching, silly, heartbreaking, groundbreaking, wise, and real. And even if you don’t give a shit about any of that, the soundtrack rocks! Jackson Browne, the Cars, Sammy Hager, Jimmy Buffet, Led Zepplin, and as if that wasn’t enough -- Oingo Boingo, ladies and gentlemen!

Hey, if nothing else, you’ve got to love a movie where Sean Penn says, “People on ludes should not drive.”

43 comments:

Chris said...

Are you kidding?! It's a great movie, I'll give you that, but it's about as depressing as anything I've ever seen. I don't what's worse, "Somebody's Baby" or the abortion.

I think the difference is you didn't see it when you were 14.

I'll take "Clueless" instead.

James said...

Fast Times is great because it goes for more than just jokes and crude humor. The weight of those moments raises the bar for the funny stuff. I give it props also because I was the age of the characters when it came out and it felt authentic at the time and still does.

I put Fast Times right up there with the original Bad News Bears.

Dave Lowe said...

Since I first saw it as a teenager in the '80s, I sometimes use the line "It's ok, my Dad has an awesome set of tools." when small problems occur in life.

So many don't get the reference but
every once in awhile, someone's eyes go wide and smile saying "FAST TIMES!"

I do love those little and silly bonding moments in life.

Doug Walsh said...

Hell, I look daily for people to accuse me of wasting their time, just so I can do my best Spicoli and say, "But doesn't that make it our time?"

Fast Times = one of my favorites from childhood.

And I totally agree about Judge. There's something about that guy that makes you want to forget he's even there.

I actually liked the soundtrack too.

Tim W. said...

I'm much closer in age to the Fast TImes crew than the Superbad, but I actually liked Superbad a little more. Superbad was a straight up comedy, whereas Fast Times had more drama, although with a lot of very funny scenes. It's been many years since I saw it, but Sean Penn and Phoebe Cates were definitely the highlights of that movie. I liked Phoebe Cates so much in highschool that I actually watched the movie Paradise multiple times.

And Judge Reinhold was funny in Beverly Hills Cop.

Mr. Vargas: Are you in my class?
Jeff Spicoli: I am today.

JSWN said...

Love it!! And Spicoli's Vans are classic. Sean Phoebe and Jennifer!
I love the character Rat Rattone!

Anonymous said...

Judge was good in Beverly Hills Cop and the overlooked Vice Versa.

Dave said...

"Fast Times" and "Superbad?" Ye gods; could you have picked two more annoying movies?

The only connection these pictures have with "humor" is that some of the same letters are used in the script.

Jon Weisman said...

If you liked Fast Times the movie, you should read Crowe's book that it's based on. It's 10 times better.

Paul Cox said...

Phoebe Cates. That's really all you need to say.

bevo said...

I loved Fast Times when it came out in theaters. I probably saw it at least half dozen times more when it came out on VHS.

If you want a darker, more realistic movie, then I recommend Last American Virgin. It was released around the same time as Fast Times and got lost in the shuffle. It is terrific though.

Ben Rehder said...

It came out my senior year in high school. I think I could recite the script from start to finish.

Don't forget Forest Whitaker!

Vermonter17032 said...

Yes, Fast Times is a classic. A group of friends and I formed what we called "The Bad Movie Club." To be a member, you had to have watched Fast Times at least three times... That isn't to say we thought Fast Times was a bad movie, but we thought only WE got it. I guess I'm wrong, and it is nice to see so many people who love that film the way I do.

I would disagree with you about Judge Reinhold. I thought he was good in Fast Times. I especially thought the scene where Jennifer Jason Leigh comes out of the abortion clinic and Judge is waiting to drive her home was touching.

BTW, when was the Last Time Hollywood had the courage to have a teenage comedy where one of the main characters HAD an abortion? Probably FT... which in itself is enough to make this an unusual film.

PALGOLAK said...

Nick Cage wasn't in "Fast Times". Perhaps you were thinking of "Valley Girl"...

LouOCNY said...

Nick Cage wasn't in "Fast Times". Perhaps you were thinking of "Valley Girl"..

oh yes he is....of course all he does is stumble out of the smoky van...

the look on Mr Hand's face ( I actually had a teacher named that)when the pizza is delivered to the classroom is priceless...

ERIC SCOTT said...

I bought a DVD of this movie and was surprised that most of the sequence at the abortion clinic was cut - one scene she walks in and the next one she's done and leaves. The most poignant part of the movie gone! Who decides these things?

Dave said...

"Is he gonna sh*t, or is he gonna kill us?"

Uh Huh... said...

I'm unapologetic to say I was Jeff Spicoli in high school and then I became a young Jeff Lebowski (aka "The Dude) a few years later, and now much to my shame and disappointment I'm now the slightly older Jeffery Lebowski (the David Huddleston one).

Totally unrelated, as children, my late mother-in-law was the baby-sitter for both Judge Reinhold and Ryan Phillippe.

And talk about angst ridden performers, has Nicholas cage ever met a role that he couldn't over-act in or squeeze the life out of?

BC said...

Nick Cage wasn't in "Fast Times". Perhaps you were thinking of "Valley Girl"...

oh yes he is....of course all he does is stumble out of the smoky van...

You're both right and wrong: 'Nic Cage' didn't appear in Fast Times, Nic Coppola did. But he was a buddy of Judge Reinhold's, not one of the stoners - I think you're thinking of Anthony Edwards

Sarge said...

Long-time reader, first-time commenter.

Thanks for sharing the love for Oingo Boingo. Most people don't seem to know what Danny Elfman did before movie scores.

Dan Serafini said...

First he's gonna sh*t, then he's gonna kill us!

Your Humble Correspondent said...

Everytime I see the scene where Brad (Reinhold) is cleaning the bathroom mirror at All American Burger, where someone wrote in HUGE letters, "BIG HAIRY PUSSY," while practicing the dumping of his girlfriend, I laugh out loud.

I am not necessarily proud of this.

Z's Father said...

What Jefferson was saying was, 'Hey! You know, we left this England place 'cause it was bogus; so if we don't get some cool rules ourselves - pronto - we'll just be bogus too!'

jbryant said...

Okay then, dave, name some movies that ARE funny. It's depressing to learn that I've been laughing at the "wrong" ones. :)

Chris L said...

I think, depending on how you see this movie, sometimes the soundtrack will be all wrong. (The WKRP effect)

Brad said...

Way over my head.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I was sure I'd hate this movie, seeing as how I was well past my teens when it came out. But I saw it one day and was amazed that I liked it--including Judge's performance.

Tom Quigley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Quigley said...

Ken,

Loved your analysis of the movie and how it works for you on so many different levels, but to me the most important question needing to be answered is: Know where I can get a poster-sized copy of the Phoebe Cates pic?

sonderangerbot said...

"My name is Judge!" That's his best work.

I've never seen this movie, but you have certainly convinced me, Ken. I don't know if Superbad might start a trend, but I know high school films have been far from what they were in the 80's for a long time now.

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget a great acting turn by LA sportscaster Stu Nahan in the film. We'll actually he pretty much played himself, his character name was "Stu".

Judge R. was a fine actor, haven't seen him lately though?

The Crutnacker said...

Great movie. Phoebe and Jennifer were both hot.

Would be nice if Universal would release the unrated version of the movie.

As for the WKRP effect, oddly enough, it appears that American Life Network (available to at least 30 people nationwide) is showing the episodes WITH original music. I caught one of my favorites (Bomb Threat) and all the original cues were there.

Tim W. said...

I LOVED the bomb threat episode, although I have been very worried about the phone police ever since.

Sebastian said...

Saw this now and think it's extremely non-entertaining.

Maybe I'm a sucker for light entertainment, but I'll take Ferris Bueller's Day Off over this in a heartbeat as well as any John Hughes movie as well as Can't Buy Me Love.

If I want to "think" about "stuff" I'll watch Full Metal Jacket.

JeffH said...

I'm still in love with Phoebe Cates from FTARH. Imagine my surprise when I walked into a funky, upscale NYC boutique last year and there, behind the counter manning the cash register...NO. Not Spicoli. Phoebe frickin' Cates, actress turned owner/proprietor of said NYC boutique, where a vintage T-shirt was goin' for $50-60. And yes, guys, she still looks H-O-T. (I stifled my schoolboy crush on her so my wife wouldn't catch on while we were in the store).

tb said...

Sean Penn deserves a freakin' oscar for his Spicoli. "BAM BAM BAM- Dude, that's my skull!"

jbryant said...

Man, Kevin Kline must have really pleased the gods. He's been blessed with an Oscar, two Tonys and a Phoebe.

Brian said...

You're both right and wrong: 'Nic Cage' didn't appear in Fast Times, Nic Coppola did. But he was a buddy of Judge Reinhold's, not one of the stoners - I think you're thinking of Anthony Edwards

And Eric Stoltz, who was the third stoner. Nic's character wasn't necessarily a friend of Brad, but he worked at the same burger joint.

I remember in college when we discovered him in the background of a scene. We thought we were so cool. I am pretty sure it is when Brad is getting fired.

So many great moments and quotable lines. I am not Sean Penn's biggest fan, but think this performance shows how talented he is. Spicoli was epic.

Jerry said...

As for the WKRP effect, oddly enough, it appears that American Life Network (available to at least 30 people nationwide) is showing the episodes WITH original music. I caught one of my favorites (Bomb Threat) and all the original cues were there.

Apparently the music deals cover(ed) rebroadcasting, but not other media like DVDs. So WKRP should air just fine, but getting all the rights for the DVDs could be prohibitive. Shout Factory tried hard for the SCTV DVDs, but a few songs were beyond their ability (Jimmy Page won't license Stairway to Heaven to ANYONE), so there were a few music changes and deletions.

Anonymous said...

I recently saw Fast Times on the big screen as a benefit for the Little Rock Film Festival, where the guest was Judge Reinhold. Sat three rows behind him. He said the part was Cage's but at 17, they couldn't accommodate shooting so few hours, so he got the part.

derby said...

no comparison between superbad and fast times. fast times is far and away a better film.

i thought superbad had some nice moments, but it's totally forgettable. i'm not 17, so perhaps i am being overly harsh, but i thought the movie was mediocre.

fast times is a classic. the same way animal house is so much better than old school.

Rambler said...

I've always wondered how Crowe's book would stand under the scrutiny that "non-fiction" books get today.

As for Judge, he was great. "Doesn't anybody fucking knock anymore?" Come on, who else could've delivered that line. He was an everyman. Unfortunately, one of his best scenes was left on the floor when he is meeting with the school's advisor on his future.

Mr Hand said...

The amount of 30-somethings that still can quote lines from Fast Times after so many years makes it a absolute GenX classic and a really great movie. One can only come to the conclusion that those here that consider Fast Times as a dud movie devoid of humor are themselves totally devoid of humor. How remarkably dull of them.