Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

fasttimes_5Starring Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Robert Romanus, Brian Backer, Phoebe Cates, Ray Walston, Scott Thomson, Vincent Schiavelli, Amanda Wyss, D.W. Brown, Forest Whitaker, Kelli Maroney

Directed by Amy Heckerling

Expectations: Moderate.

fourstar


It could just be my age, but Fast Times at Ridgemont High was a transcendent experience. It would seem that anyone who lived through the ’80s would have already seen this one, but I was too young to catch it initially, and my parents were just about 30 when this came out, so they were perhaps too old for its charms. In any case, I never saw it growing up, and I’ve always kind of indirectly avoided it because of its reputation. I figured there was no way for it to live up to the hype, similar to my experience watching Valley Girl for the first time a couple of years ago.

But lo and behold, Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a film with strength enough to withstand the test of time. What sets it apart from other high school movies, a genre I generally don’t care one way or the other for, is that it is timeless yet also expertly evocative of the time it was made. I was born in 1981, so I don’t remember the early ’80s, but even still the film dredged up all kinds of nostalgic thoughts and feelings of my youth. But you can’t simply hang four stars on nostalgia alone, and that’s where the timeless part comes in.

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The Tree of Life (2011)

This collage poster is such a true representation of this film.

Starring Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Sean Penn, Hunter McCracken, Laramie Eppler, Tye Sheridan

Directed by Terrence Malick

Expectations: Low. I don’t consider myself a Malick fan. I hated The Thin Red Line so much that it took fourteen years to even consider watching another of his films.


Within the first few minutes of The Tree of Life, I knew exactly how I’d feel about it when I arrived at the ending. I’ve only seen one Malick film prior to this, The Thin Red Line, and I thought it was an unintelligible mess. I was a teenager on a full diet of Hong Kong action films though, so lately I’ve thought that a re-watch as a thoughtful adult would reveal a better film. Cue the release of Malick’s latest film The Tree of Life, allowing me to give him another shot without the pain of re-watching something I previously despised. I knew I was in for a bad ride though, when only a few minutes into the film I got the same, confused feeling I had all those years ago in a cinema watching The Thin Red Line, wondering how the images on-screen were supposed to coalesce into meaning.

The Tree of Life‘s plot isn’t really one to bang out into a single paragraph at first glance, but on reflection there isn’t much of a plot. There’s also no real scenes in the classic sense. Or dialogue. The Tree of Life is probably the most high-profile experimental film of all time. It all opens with the death of Brad Pitt & Jessica Chastain’s kid, one of their three boys. Which one we don’t know, or if we do, I missed it. We then connect with Sean Penn, another of their children, now all grown up. Penn thinks back to his childhood and before you know it, we’re watching a nearly fifteen minute sequence depicting the creation of the universe before we jump into the real film at Penn’s character’s birth.

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The Indian Runner (1991)

Starring Viggo Mortensen, David Morse, Patricia Arquette, Valeria Golino, Charles Bronson, Dennis Hopper

Directed by Sean Penn

Expectations: High. I’ve really liked the other films of Penn’s that I’ve seen. How can you not be excited by that cast list too?


I don’t know the exact story of how Sean Penn came to be a director as well as a fantastic actor, but what it boils down to is this: the guy can make a movie. The Indian Runner is his first excursion into work behind the camera, and despite some minor flaws, it is a powerful and emotional film. Sean Penn heard the Bruce Springsteen song, Highway Patrolman (off the excellent acoustic album Nebraska), and was so moved by its story, that he wanted to write an entire film based upon it. The Indian Runner inexplicably does what it sets out to do and successfully translates the song into a film, expanding the narrative yet still remaining true to Springsteen’s two central characters, a pair of very different brothers.

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