Three O’Clock High

tn_threeoclockhighIf there’s a more stylish ’80s teen movie than 3 O’CLOCK HIGH I don’t know what it is. This one’s shot like RAISING ARIZONA or an EVIL DEAD with all kinds of cartoonish zooms, energetic cuts and dramatic angles. In fact the internet tells me Barry Sonnenfeld was the cinematographer, although I only noticed him credited as “special lighting consultant,” which seemed kind of weird. Anyway it makes it constantly interesting to look at and sort of shows you the world through the eyes of the characters. To us a real high school would just look like a building but to them it’s real dramatic, some Sam Raimi and some Sergio Leone.

mp_threeoclockhighThe story is very simple, it’s just about one day in the life of Jerry Mitchell (Casey Siemaszko), a middlingly nerdy high school schmo who runs the student store. There’s a new kid starting school today named Buddy Revell (Richard Tyson) whose reputation as a psycho precedes him – everyone is telling stories about all the fights he’s been in the, schools he’s been kicked out of, the authority figures he’s pulled knives on, the weapons he uses. Poor Jerry gets assigned to write a profile on Buddy for the school newspaper, but Buddy is not okay with this because “I don’t like people to know about me.” A terrified Jerry backs down and says he won’t do the story, and reassuringly pats Buddy on the shoulder… forgetting the legend that Buddy is a “touch freak” who will kill you if you touch him. Now Buddy says he’s gonna fight Jerry after school, and there’s no talking him out of it.

mp_threeoclockhighB(Let me interrupt for a second to compare the DVD cover at right to the movie poster above. The DVD is from the “HIGH SCHOOL REUNION COLLECTION,” whatever the hell that is. It’s not “The High School Reunion Edition” because that would require having extras of some kind. Anyway, I thought it was kind of funny that they actually had somebody repaint the edges of the clock to make it round. They must have some study showing that consumers hate octagons.)

Of course, Buddy is no ordinary teen. He’s not even an ordinary adult walking through a high school. He’s a fucking monster. He looks closer to a pro-wrestler than a teen. He’s also mysterious, with a broody James Dean squint. Part of what makes the movie fun is that he has a little depth to him, he’s not your typical bad kid. You expect him to be a neanderthal, but the few times he talks he’s surprisingly eloquent. And it turns out he’s good at math too. It just happens that he likes to lift other kids up by their necks and smash them through things. It’s something he’s good at, you know. He’s an asshole for going after Jerry, but I kind of liked him anyway. I hoped they’d end up friends.

Jerry tries everything he can think of to weasel out of this fight, but he just keeps making things worse, adding new problems. He goes from anonymous nobody pen salesman to #1 on the watch list for the principal, the head of security (Mitch Pileggi) and even a police detective (Philip Baker Hall). So as the minutes tick away to his personal armageddon he’s also juggling all this other shit. Not a good day at school.

The reality of this world is so heightened that it’s exciting to watch him try to find clean pants to wear to school. When he’s checking out a girl while driving it leads to a spectacular spin and near crash, but his little sister and friend in the car don’t even change expressions. When he tries to ditch school it leads to a thrilling foot chase straight out of POINT BREAK. And the fight at the end is great too. I’ll half spoil the ending: he not only gets the girl, but also the second girl, plus the adult woman. The nerd gets three girls total. That’s the kind of movie this is.

But I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise, we should know this is no ordinary high school movie when we realize that the music is by Tangerine Dream! It’s not as dramatic as what they did for SORCERER but still, it’s pretty cool for a teen comedy. The director is Phil Joanou (GRIDIRON GANG), the writers are Richard Christian Matheson (yes, the son of the author of I Am Legend) and Thomas E. Szollosi. All of them are working at the top of their game I think because this is a brilliantly shot version of a clever script. A simple thing made into something much better than you’d think it ever could be.

Thanks to Clubside for recommending this one. Also for putting this websight together. Two good deeds right there.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 30th, 2009 at 11:12 pm and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

85 Responses to “Three O’Clock High”

  1. Richard Christian Matheson wrote a really kick-ass book of minimalist short horror stories called Dystopia. Talent definitely ran in the family.

  2. This movie really is so much fucking fun. Clever at every turn. Phil Joanou seems incredibly talented but hasn’t gotten much of a break. He also did State of Grace, which is great, and I also really liked his movie Entropy, which is a surreal take on the Guy Goes To Hollywood And Boy Is That Place Weird genre that was kind of popular for a minute. Stephen Dorf plays what I assume is a doppelganger for Joanou, and has long lonely conversations with his cat who smokes cigarettes for some reason. I don’t know but I liked it at the time.

    Hasn’t done much else of note since then but Imdb claims he’s involved with an upcoming remake of Sharky’s Machine, so the future’s looking pretty bright I think.

  3. That the same Richard Christian Matheson that penned I Am Legend?

  4. oh man this sounds awesome, how have I not heard of this movie before?


    I wouldn’t really call this a good movie (I didn’t find it entertaining or funny like Vern seems to have), but I do get a certain sick amusement with how reprehensible it is compared to most teen movies. You’re expecting, based on every other high school movie you’ve seen, that Jerry is going to ultimately to do the right thing, learn a valuable lesson, end up dating the nice girl, etc. Instead, he ends up turning into a thug, gets away with stealing hundreds of dollars from the school, beats the living shit out of Buddy and becomes a legendary thug just like Buddy was, and as Vern points, becomes the object of affection of three women.

    Even weirder, it’s like there’s some sort of PG-13 version of THE HITCHER going on, where it seems like Buddy is actually deliberately pushing Jerry over the edge so that Jerry will finally snap, beat the shit out of Buddy and hence BECOME Buddy. That didn’t really happen in any of John Hughes’s movies.

  6. “Don’t fuck this up Mitchell!” – great stuff.

  7. Just watched this off your recommendation – well done, that man. Nice to see Kas from ‘Hardball’ in an earlier incarnation as well.

  8. A more stylish ’80s teen movie than 3 O’CLOCK HIGH?

    Risky Busssines, of course.

  9. Jareth Cutestory

    October 1st, 2009 at 6:58 am

    It’s been years since I watched this film, but in my memory it resembles Scorsesse’s AFTER HOURS more than it does THE HITCHER.

    Long after the plot, characters and acting faded in my memory, it’s the visual style that I remember most clearly.

  10. This should have been a prequel to Christine. It could have been Buddy’s Early Years or something like that.

  11. Very excited to see you write this one up, it’s a personal favorite. Richard Tyson would of course return to school in Kindergarten Cop, albeit a little less sympathetic than in this movie.

    Did you know that allegedly Steven Spielberg worked on 3 O’Clock High and was supposed to be credited as executive producer but asked that his name be taken off? I always thought that was bullshit – was he embarrassed by this? Yet he’s not too embarrassed to take his name of the fucking Transformers movies? What the fuck Spielberg.

    Have you seen My Bodyguard, another above-average high school bully film that was the acting debut (and probably best performance) of Adam Baldwin? It’s written by the great Alan Ormsby – since you’ve covered Cohen & Tate, 3:15 and the Substitute movies that would make for a natural follow-up review. I know you probably don’t want to be covering Back to School movies all year round but that one and 3 O’Clock High make for an excellent double feature.

  12. i think this movie is fine. it’s fun and entertaining, but it’s really a lot of style over substance. i never actually caught it back in the 80s, but i remember seeing it on tv in the 90s and being surprised at how clever and self-aware it was (rare for the time). and i just found it in a bargain video bin for the equivalent of ten cents (yes, i still have a VCR), so i bought it and watched it not two months ago. like i said, it was fine, but it is precisely it’s self-awareness that makes it not one of my favorite teen movies of the period. one of the things i love so much about 80s movies (especially teen ones) is that they are all kind of crappy and cheesy on the surface, but then there are all these unexpected weird sort of elements that creep into them, seemingly accidentally, and they often contain this kind of surprising moments of honest expression of teen angst. whereas “three o’ clock high” is a movie that seems to know exactly what it is doing and seems to achieve what it wants to but without that extra, unexpected depth. i will say, though, that casey siemaszko is kind of an atypical leading man for this type of movie, and despite the world being so over-the-top, he plays it really realistically and believably and likably.

    hey vern, if you are still doing back to school, are you accepting recommendations? how about a review of alexander payne’s “election,” one of my favorite school-set movies. or do you require the movies to have at least some genre trappings? actually, i guess you don’t since “porky’s” doesn’t really have that.

    a good, cheesy 80’s high school movie that has some of the unexpected qualities that i was talking about above and also has a lot of enjoyable cliches of the genre is “can’t buy me love,” a second-tier classic of the period.

    my favorite 80s teen movie, although it doesn’t take place in school that much, is “the last american virgin.” it’s an amazing, amazing movie. seriously. it’s actually one of my favorite movies period. it is part juvenile teen sex comedy, and part excruciatingly real portrayal of teen lonliness, angst, and heartbreak. and it has one of the best endings of all time. and it has an amazing soundtrack. oh, and lots of boobies (and a little bush – sorry, kids born after the 70s). vern, if you could find it in your heart to review it, i would love to further discuss it in these comments.

  13. Those sound like good recommendations, but I have one more school review to finish and then I want to go into horror mode until Halloween. But maybe next year (or after Halloween).

    Good comments on the movie too. I think Dan’s points go hand in hand with Gary’s. Because it is mostly style over substance I didn’t take it as seriously as Dan did and wouldn’t call it “reprehensible” at all. To me it just seems like kind of a male fantasy of how he would handle that one bad day, not any kind of defense of stealing money or beating people up as lifestyle choices. But it’s true that those things happen in the movie. I don’t know – it seems to me like the principal realizes he stole the money but now also sees what he’s gone through and is understanding enough to let him off since he replaced the money right away.

    Also it was cool when he took a flying leap off the car like Jimmy Superfly Snuka or somebody.

  14. another funny high school movie (not from the 80s) that DOES have genre trappings is “my boyfriend’s back” (directed by bob balaban!!!), about a goofy kid who gets shot at a convenience store before he gets to take the popular, hot chick to the prom. but his love for her is so strong that he comes back from the dead as a zombie to take her out on their date. but it’s really just a goofy comedy. it’s got lots of weird and quirky humor, some of it surprisingly dark. also, it’s fun to see a lot of now famous actors show up in smaller roles (matthew fox, matthew mcconaughey, and phillip seymour godamn hoffman!).

  15. well, “my boyfriend’s back” could work for halloween, too, since the main character’s a zombie. but just joshin, frankly vern, i was surprised you stuck with back to school for this long.

  16. I always thought it was hilarious that movies take fucked up ideas like werewolves, zombies and vampires and place them in context of high school and somehow come up with goofy comedies or sappy love stories, a la Twilight. There is something so perverted and off-putting about that series and others like it that I have to shake my head in puzzlement whenever someone brings it up as being ‘sexy’ or ‘romantic.’

  17. I always thought it was hilarious that movies take fucked up ideas like werewolves, zombies and vampires and place them in context of high school and somehow come up with goofy comedies or sappy love stories, a la Twilight. There is something so perverted and off-putting about that series and others like it that I have to shake my head in puzzlement whenever someone brings it up as being ‘sexy’ or ‘romantic’

  18. Great review Vern. I was hoping you’d get to this one when the “Back to School” arc kicked in. This was, like for many others, an afternoon cable find for me. What made it for me then, and still holds up now, is the bully. Here’s a guy that’s really transcended high school, but doesn’t have the emotional, or psychological, tools to just ride it out. He can blow through every test, take down every jock, probably date any girl he wants, and it just bores him. He’s ready for bigger and better things, and treads water in the meantime. And I’ll second him hanging out with the hero after the credits roll. They make a good pair. In fact, the highlight of the whole film is when the nerd pays him not to fight. The way the bully takes the money, shrugs, and says “all right, but you didn’t even try. How does that feel?” You can feel the loss of respect as he turns away. Devastating.

    I liked Dan and Gary’s comments on this one. Dan, man, I really like the idea of this being “The Three O’clock Hitcher,” but it’s one of those things where the inspiration lies in the aisles, not on the screen. I think his beef with the protagonist lies more with boundary issues than the deep-seeded need to shepherd in his own demise, but then again, it is interesting. And like Vern said above, this isn’t your average bully. Gary, yeah, I can see the style issue. Your comments remind me of why I like certain indie bands. They may be low-fi and rough, but that allows for moments of spontaneous realness (Christ, as though “being real” wasn’t played out enough, but you know what I mean). Anyway, I thought this movie had more than style going for it, but your mileage may vary.

    Last bit. I’m a huge Richard Matheson fan, and in one of his short-story collections his son, Richard Christian, writes about growing up with his father. Apparently when he was in high school he played in a punk band, and his father would come and see every show. Sometimes he’d even slamdance. Richard Matheson, slamdancing to his son’s punk band. I want to be that kind of dad.

  19. While I tried to find this movie somewhere (no success yet, but I finally found “Flesh & Blood”!) I learned that the German title sounds more like a serious drama. It translates: “Fist Law – Terror At The High School” (Faustrecht – Terror in der High School).

  20. Vern,
    Just to be clear, when I called it “reprehensible” I meant that as a compliment. I don’t really like the movie, but I am amused by its warped values, by it’s brazen “male fantasy” as you called it.

    Bad Seed,

    Maybe that’s just me projecting on to the movie; certainaly I’m not convinced it was an intended element of the film. Still though, Buddy just keeps pushing and pushing Jerry, no matter how many ways out Jerry figures, and the ultimate implication is that by not only fighting Buddy, but in fact specifically that he beats Buddy, Jerry wins Buddy’s respect. And then in the end, everyone at school is telling outlandish urban legends about Jerry, just like they did with Buddy at the beginning. In order to defeat Buddy, Jerry becomes him, and all of that does seem somewhat similar to THE HITCHER.

  21. ok, inspired by cj holden, i just checked my japanese vhs copy. the japanese title translates as “Time Limit: 3PM” (「タイムリミット午後3時」 – “taimu rimitto gogo san-ji”).

    i should do this more often.

  22. Dan,

    Fair enough. I do think it’s an inspired bit of projection, and a film doesn’t need to intend something for it to be there. Personally, I think this myth falls more into the classic realm of the macho “dweeb becomes a man” arc. The bully’s ubiquity has more to do with his myriad interests than any intent on the hero. Think about it; he excels at math, develops his own photos, shoots free throws that would make Shaq blush (okay, maybe not a solid example; come on Shaq, pick it up); etc. He doesn’t really seek out the hero the way the Hitcher does, i.e. breaking him out of a jail after killing all the cops in the station, placing coins over his eyes in a crowded road stop, etc. The bully just plain isn’t interested in the hero the way the Hitcher is the Drive-a-Wayer; for him he’s just another nuisance, one that detracts from his renaissance-like growth. It isn’t like the bully is so bored that he actively creates a hero to take him down a notch. If anything, this is a more organic, two forces come to a head kind of confrontation. And I’d even argue that the bully benefits as much as the hero. A guy that talented and gifted shouldn’t get shoved into gladiator academies just because he surpasses every school in New Mexico—and that’s the direction he’s heading before the clock strikes three. Hopefully both characters come out the better for their confrontation, instead of one getting negated/supplanted by another, newer version to repeat a destructive cycle.

    Wow, that’s a lot of subtext for Three O’clock High. Thanks Dan!

    Gary: please keep up the Japanese titles. I lived in Nagoya for four years, so it gives me a chance to brush up on my skills. Are you still over there now?

  23. Bad Seed,

    Good points, all. But if you’re right, then why would Buddy set the fight for 3 o’clock and not just pound Jerry right then and there? He doesn’t have any qualms beating people up during school hours on school grounds; the library scene establishes that.

    Why? Because he knows that Jerry must taste blood to become a man.

  24. Dan,

    Hmmm, that’s an excellent point. However, I’m not sure if he’s got Jerry’s best interests in mind, and I might even argue that the library had less to do with deciding not to help a particular individual achieve manhood (wow, that could be read the wrong way), but because, unlike Jerry, the jock needs to get taken care of—now. I’m still leaning more to the bully being all about his own aims, and taking out things that get in the way. But it is an interesting point; why bother with three o’clock at all? There’s something there, but I’m not convinced it’s a conscious decision on the bully’s part to give Jerry a baptism of fire. The closest is the bribe scene I mentioned above, but there’s enough ambiguity there to leave the matter open, i.e. whether the bully was thinking about “trying” beforehand, or if he just brought it up when the money turned up. Which is okay, I like ambiguity.

    On the other hand, becoming a man is exactly what the film is about. I’m definitely with you there.

  25. Oh, and speaking of off-beat Tangerine Dream scores, Vern, you might want to check out STRANGE BEHAVIOR. It’s a mediocre-to-decent early 80’s slasher movie made memorable by a handful of good scenes, the presence of Michael Murphy, and the aforementioned score.

  26. Mitch Pileggi, now there’s an interesting guy. Was a defence contractor in Iran before becoming an actor, would you believe?

  27. I will always remember Pileggi as Skinner from the X-files, and I don’t care who knows it. But he has a long history of being a solid actor (remember his classic role as “Concert Guard #2 in ITS PAT?) I keep hoping someday he’ll land a part in something classy and get a little recognition. Had no idea he as a defense contractor, though. Weird.

  28. And who can forget him as the killer in Shocker, the very first grown-up horror movie I ever saw?

  29. Or the guy interrogating Michael Douglas in Basic Instinct? Or the presenter of Magic’s Greatest Secrets Finally Exposed? He was good in season 4 of Supernatural as Sam and Dean’s grandfather.
    Skinner was a great character, though I always noticed his obsession with the word ass. He’d always be saying to Mulder how he’d saved his ass, or would tell Cancer Man to kiss his ass when he got some blackmail material over him, and even when he’s a parallell timeline sympathetic Nazi he goes “God Save Amerika. Now get your asses out of here.”

  30. This sounds sarcastic, but it isn’t: conversations like these, about the subtext to THREE O’CLOCK HIGH, are why this is my favorite movie web sight.

  31. I love this movie so much. Rewatched it recently and saw it as a sort of western set in a high school. It definitely felt like they were trying to separate themselves from the pack with this one.

  32. And Siemaszko is awesome as 3-D in Back to the Future I-II

  33. Lots of subtext here, I certainly wasn’t thinking about any of that when I saw it in the theater (or many times at home). For me it was the orgy of camera moves that stood out in a time where I rarely noticed such things. Someone mentioned Spielberg, and Phil Joanou was a protege of his which I’m sure is the cause of the connection.

    Beside the many basic clock shots, the one that stood out for me was the shot where Jerry is at his desk, hands gripping the sides, and there is a push-in where the background accelerates, then the camera swivels and looks down while rising up to show the clock face and time ticking away above Jerry’s head. I guess now we get that technique in Chef Boyardee commercials.

    Other than the standard joke as to why Buddy chooses to set the fight at three o’clock (“It’s in the script, fuckwad!”), either there is the lesson teaching some are theorizing (which I find hard to believe given the brass knuckles and Buddy’s seemingly sincere attempt to really pound the shit out of Jerry throughout) or Buddy is simply amused at the notion of terrorizing someone. I lean toward the latter, particularly given his performance after the test incident.

  34. Ooops, forgot this one for vern: Three O’Clock High was part of a promotion when Universal re-released The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Weird Science and others (now with the original music, let’s re-buy!). You could buy them all at a discount in the High School Reunion Collection, or obviously individually but with the same packaging.

  35. If nobody has suggested Hiding Out with Jon Cryer for Vern to watch, I’m going to do it. It’s a favorite of mine and totally awesome.

  36. bad seed – you have given new meaning to my life. i will try to translate japanese titles for as many reviews as i can, if i can find them.

    lawrence – “hiding out” is hilarious. it’s pretty retarded/fun. i love how in the opening scenes cryer has to wear that atrocious fake beard to make him look like an adult (he was 22 at the time). can’t really say it’s one of my favorites, but it has its charm.

  37. Grim Grinning Chris

    October 2nd, 2009 at 4:42 am

    Even more amusing to me about Hiding Out was that marketing thought Cryer’s name was big enough to sell the movie. Granted people knew who he was… but more in a “oh, it’s a new movie with Duckie in it” way. For them to go overboard and have all the posters actually say “Jon Cryer is… HIDING OUT” was so funny to me.

  38. Was that theme song “Something to Remember Me By” awesome or what? And never thought of the Hitcher paralllels till you guys bought it up (love this site!) – but I wonder if you can go one step further and think that Jerry WAS Buddy a la Fight Club?

  39. Jareth Cutestory

    October 2nd, 2009 at 7:17 am

    Not only did Skinner interrogate Michael Douglas in BASIC INSTINCT, but Wayne “Neuman” Knight interrogated Sharon Stone. Knight is a perfectly adequate dramatic actor, but it’s totally distracting now when he pops up in BASIC INSTINCT or JFK. The Seinfeld tv show parodies Knight’s participation in both of these films.

  40. The best thing about Skinner was how he was introduced as your typical “chief” character. He gave the loose-cannon heroes a hard time but ultimately covered their asses, and that was all you expected of him. He had his glasses on and his nice suit and you never thought he’d leave his desk because that was the kind of guy he as: an office guy. Then there was that episode where he’s got a T-shirt on, beating the fuck out of Krycek, and you’re like, “Holy shit, Skinner’s a badass beefy motherfucker.” He should have been out there fucking up aliens instead of scrawny-ass Mulder.

  41. neal2zod,

    Well, I think too many other characters recognize and interect with Buddy for that to be the case, but since you were kind enough to follow my example and throw out an innappropriate movie connection, I will go one further and say that Jerry and Buddy are maybe the same person inhabiting two different bodies, with a weird psychic connection, with Buddy being the dark half that Jerry must face to reach actualization. Like the two Charlies in Hitchcock’s SHADOW OF A DOUBT or Jeffrey and Frank in BLUE VELVET. 3 O’CLOCK HIGH is pretty much exactly like those movies.

  42. Mr. Majestyk – one of the many things they botched in that last X-Files movie was Skinner’s entrance: it was set up beautifully with Scully’s line: “get me someone who has some balls” but, instead of cutting to the more heroic shot that Skinner deserved, they just sort of cut to him driving in a car like a tired old pensioner. At least that’s how I remember it. Skinner deserved better.

  43. i rented this video probably 15 times when i was a kid. could have just bought it, now that i think about it…

  44. True. They could have given Skinny Boy a better entrance, but you have to admit: That’s a great introductory line.

    Still, I would have liked to have seen him strip down to his shirtsleeves and pummel someone.

  45. I remember the X-Files scene you described – beating the fuck out of Krycek – and I had the same response as you at the time. Part of the shock of that scene, as well as the “kiss my ass” scene with Cancer Guy, was that the show kept alive the possibility that Skinner was a villan for quite a while. So when he kicked some ass, it was quite cathartic.

    I have a vague memory of some b-movie where Skinner played a small town sherrif. All I remember is that he looked great carrying a shot gun.

  46. Might that be Legion of Fire: Killer Ants!, in which he plays Police Chief Jeff Croy? I’ve never seen it, but I’m a big fan of movie titles that use multiple forms of punctuation.

  47. That sounds about right. I remember there being some sort of insect involved.

    I also remember how puny Bronson looked in comparison the Skinner in Death Wish 4. In fairness to Bronson, though, I think the studio had exhumed his corpse for that particular production.

  48. They always downplayed Bronson’s beefiness in the Death Wish movies to make him more of an everyman underdog. He looked pretty enfeebled in the first one, but that same year he spent half of Hard Times shirtless and looking like he was carved out of mahogany. Hell, just a few years earlier he was in Chato’s Land, running around wearing just a loincloth and sporting a physique that would put today’s prettyboys to shame. It was actually kind of jarring to see his magnificently craggy face on top of that Adonis’ body.

    I’m getting pretty gay here, but I’m comfortable with it.

  49. Remember when I told you yesterday, that the German title of it sounds like a serious drama? Well, you should take a look at the German VHS cover!

  50. Holy crap CJ – i need that in poster form immediately.

  51. When it comes to Bronson, I think it’s safe to say we’re all a little gay.

    That goes double for Lee Marvin.

  52. Actually, I thought Skinner was kind of the hero of I WANT TO BELIEVE. Sure, Mulder is on
    the scene first, but gets his ass handed to him and almost chopped apart. Skin man arrives
    and actually lays down the law. He’s only in the movie what, 5, 10 minutes, but he basically
    gets all their problems resolved in that time. He’s beefy AND expedient.

    Full disclosure: I’m one of the few people in the US who really liked and almost loved I WANT TO BELIEVE, so maybe my opinion shouldn’t be trusted.

  53. Mr. S, please make me like that movie. I wanted to believe so much, but man, I sure didn’t. Hit me with the metaphors and shit so I can revisit it in the right frame of mind.

  54. Jareth Cutestory

    October 2nd, 2009 at 1:38 pm

    Mr. Subtlety – if you want full disclosure, I’ll tell you (at great personal risk to my safety) that I preferred that X-Files movie to the Batman movie. I’m one of those nuts who thinks that Adam West is the best realization of the character. Obviously, I’m not one of those guys who holds comic books to the standard of literature.

  55. Hey there, mister, I’m the guy around here who hates The Dark Knight. Go find your own dead pony to flog.

  56. Jareth Cutestory

    October 2nd, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    I’d never dream of imposing on your niche, my friend.

    Have you seen that web site that goes through the DARK KNIGHT frame by frame pointing out the flaws? Now that’s dedication.

  57. I thought I was the resident Dark Knight hater! Remember? I even hate Heath Ledger’s terrible Oscar winning overacting!

  58. I’m sorry, guys. I was being selfish. We can all hate that overrated mess of a movie together. I’ll bring the S’mores!

  59. Jareth Cutestory

    October 2nd, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    I wonder if it’s some kind of coincidence that the two members of Vern’s site with
    “Arrested Development” -related names/icons are also critical of Batman.

  60. That’s where your name was from! Gah, it was driving me nuts!

    Clearly, your Dark Knight hatred stems from a show of support for Hancock, co-starring Jason “Teen Wolf As Well” Bateman.

    Also, can we talk for a minute about how much Arrested Development loved incest? Not only was it a factor in many plotlines, but Bateman and his sister had some creepy sexual chemistry in that episode she guested on. Not that I blame him. She got a lot hotter since Family Ties.

  61. Arrested Development didn’t “love” incest. It just thought it was funny.

    (And now that I think about it, I’m seriously one of the few people who enjoyed Hancock from the beginning to the end, despites its more than obvious flaws. I just never blamed Arrested Development for it. )

  62. I also really enjoyed Hancock. I love that it gets really serious at the end. That’s how life is: It’s all a big laugh at first, but the next thing you know, bullets are puncturing your flesh for the first time.

  63. Mr. M– well, it depends on why you didn’t like I WANT TO BELIEVE. A lot of people who saw it were pissed off at the things it wasn’t… “where are the aliens?” “There’s not enough supernatural stuff!” “Why do Mulder and Scully spend the whole movie apart?” I think people just had a lot invested in it being the movie they imagined, and felt like it was a missed opportunity when it wasn’t. If that’s the way you felt, I think you can be saved, by going into it prepared to accept what it is and not think about what it isn’t.

    X-files was always about juggling a lot of different ideas and tones, but I don’t think anyone expected them to make their possibly last big-screen film a slow-burn, atmospheric, grim adult drama about love, belief, and redemption. But for whatever reason, they did, and I think they did a damn good job doing that. They really go surprisingly deep into exploring these themes to the point of filling the film with unpleasant or off-putting stuff (for instance, lots of people were baffled or offended by the SPOILER SPOILER gay villains, but that was the whole point — they’re a loving couple in a lot of ways, just as dedicated to each other as Mulder and Scully, just horribly twisted by the actions of someone else decades ago. If we can forgive him, should we forgive them too? Are any of them really capable of redemption? And if love can push a person to become a dismembering maniac, is it even a good thing? And how different is the murder than Mulder, another deeply damaged and obsessive person who ultimately acts out of love? And if the lines are this blurry, then what does it mean to believe in something? Does it give us hope or help us lie to ourselves?). The film’s odd structure and plot elements make a lot more sense when you see that they all tie back to these questions rather eloquently. It’s not a fun film at all, (and certainly not one for all tastes or occasions) but I was very impressed at how serious, textured, and thoughtful it is.

    Rather than hijacking this talkback any further, I’ll refer you to my review over at IMBD — http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0443701/usercomments-433. I’d love to hear if you liked it better a second time or what. One of the really disappointing things to me was how little anyone actually talked about the content or structure of the film (ok, not really a shocker on aintitcool, but still) — it was either “it sucked” or “it was alright” and that was the end of it. So yeah, I’d definitely like to know how my interpretation strikes you.

  64. Mr. S – I think I’ve said it before – the studios should hire you to make their bad films actually sound really good. I watched BELIEVE twice, and hated it both times, but your write-up makes me want to try it again. (For your reference I’m an XFiles newbie – all I’ve seen are a few random episodes and the first movie.) You’re right – it did seem underwhelming and “small” compared to what we expect a feature-length movie to be. I understand they were going for a “For Your Eyes Only” style movie (as opposed to a “Moonraker”-style one), but the whole thing just felt like a sub-par episode to me. (Thoughts on Star Trek: Insurrection?)

    So I gotta ask – were Mulder and Scully together at the beginning or not? So many people on IMDB feel they were living together the whole time (before the movie started), some people feel they weren’t; some people feel they actually got together towards the end of the show’s run, others don’t. It seems bizarre (and kind of cool) to me that a major American TV franchise that was partly built on “will they or won’t they?” (like almost every TV show out there with a male/female lead), either didn’t answer the question, or just casually answered it in a throw-away fashion (during that weird scene where Mulder and Scully are suddenly sleeping together (fully clothed) in the same bed). It’s like Carter teased us with their chemistry, but then answered us with “their romantic life isn’t that interesting to me”.

    Oh – and thoughts on the end-credits cookie? I actually kinda liked it, as much as it didn’t at all fit in with the tone of the rest of the movie.

  65. Thanks bud. Yeah, the weird thing about I WANT TO BELIEVE is that they seem absolutely dead set against doing any of the usual, easy things that one would use to hook an audience. There’s zero sex (see my review, linked above — they finally put Mulder and Scully in bed together and then have them talk about… work?) almost no action, almost no special effects (and the ones that are there steadfastly refuse to offer a “money shot” — though if you get a chance watch the special feature about the body parts, they look amazing) and no twist. And then they go even further by filling it with weird, serious, and upsetting themes. The third billed character is a child rapist for fuck’s sake. I mean, it’s easy to see why so many people just thought “What the fuck is this?” — Its like TIDELAND level stubbornly uncommerical.

    God knows why they did it, but they did. But if you see it in the mood for a low-key film low on action but heavy on atmosphere and ideas, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Bill Roe’s photography alone gets more tension out of a falling snowflake than most thrillers ever muster in their whole runtime. It’s a kind of grueling, melancholy affair, but if you stick with it and let it do its thing, I think its worth it. The post-credit thing (which I interpret as mostly metaphorical) seems earned just by how grim and despairing the rest of it is. As for INSURRECTION, I thought it was equally small and needless but nowhere near as well-crafted or interesting. But next to NEMESIS it looked like THE GODFATHER.

    As for Mulder and Scully, I do think you miss out a little being a mild X-phile, because a lot of the movie rests on our history with these two characters. I would say they are together at the start of the film (its heavily hinted in the end of the series that they are, but they’re still coy about it, a little) but it is really funny how ambiguous it is; they (in keeping with the tone) play it completely casual, as if this would be no surprise to anyone.

  66. Reasons I didn’t like I Want To Believe:

    1. Too small. Organ harvesting? That’s it? Really? Is that even an X-File? I liked the idea of them doing the movie like a Monster-of-the-Week episode (which were always way better than the conspiracy episodes anyway) but why this one? I couldn’t figure out why this half-assed story was the one that brought everybody back together. Had all the great Malaysian were-octopus stories been taken?

    2. Contrary to popular belief, the world was not clamoring for Mulder and Scully to hook up. The awesomeness of their relationship was that they never acknowledged the weird thing that was going on between them. Once they became boyfriend/girlfriend, they were boring. Watching them cuddle is like seeing your best friend’s parents make out. It makes me uncomfortable. I was hoping that the movie would fix the ickiness of the last season by having them be like, “Well, that was a mistake. About this working relationship we have…”

    3. Actually, that’s it.

    However, I am willing to give it another chance. So willing, in fact, that I already own it. (It was one of those 5-for-$20 deals at Blockbuster.) While I was utterly underwhelmed by the story, I did love the early scenes with bearded Mulder, and it was great to see these characters again. I really do love the show, even if it did have the single worst ending in the history of storytelling. The truth is out there my ass. The X-Files is the reason I still don’t trust Lost.

    And as for the question of whether or not Mul and Scul were together at the beginning of the movie…you didn’t see any porn lying around, did you?

  67. You know, I liked I WANT TO BELIEVE. It’s messy and quite frankly even when I was a X-FILES fan, I never gave a fuck about that goddamn relationship.

    But I dug a summertime popcorn movie of all things to question beliefs, and fucking amazingly, examine and link the faithful of God and UFOs. I mean think about it: So far, neither are which can be proven but more such believers use logic like: “You really think we’re truely alone in the universe”? Can’t prove or disprove either.

    So its more a faith thing. And more one’s supposed relationship to this invisible entity that they “know” exists, without ever seeing or breathing or touching it.

    Mr. Majestyk – Not everything has to be bombastic and loud pan-banging hyperbolic like say that robot sequel with the racist robots that you “liked.” Besides you heard the werewolf reports, and got pissed you didn’t get that. I was too initially, so its ok.

    Is it a glorified DTV release that escape into theatres? Probably, but I liked it. What bugs me perhaps is that scene where one of the characters covers all the knowledge of said evil operation by Google. I’m sick of that sick. KNOWING and others do that, and its so….mundanely lame.

    Mr. S – No hook per say, but maybe that moment when they venture to that apartment complex where all the sex offenders/rapists/child molesters live. Not quite the incest family from hell, but eh its fine.

    The Dubya gag though annoyed me. Cheney would have done that moment better.

  68. Mr M — yeah, that’s the complaint I hear most. But seriously, now that you know what it is, go back and watch it as a slow-burn atmosphere-driven mystery/drama. Soak in the desolation of Vancouver (I mean, West Virginia, um. OK, it looks nothing like that, but the location filming adds a lot of detail and character) and just understand that the film is about philosophy, not thrills. Maybe that wasn’t the best idea in the world, but that’s what they went with, and you at least have to give them credit for going all the way with it. I do heart Mulder’s awesome beard, but its Gillian Anderson who’s acting her ass off in there, and if you’re paying attention I think you’ll be wowed by the dedication and barely concealed intensity she brings to it. Everyone does solid work, though, even Xzibit and Amanda Peet, who tone it way, way down and let the leads shine. It’s not the movie I was expecting, either, but it has all the smarts and careful crafting which made it great to begin with, and as far as I’m concerned, I’ve got to give them credit for really committing to a weird, sad, and grossly unmarketable idea.

  69. Jareth Cutestory

    October 2nd, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    Let me just clarify something so that I don’t offend anyone: I don’t hate THE DARK KNIGHT. I’m glad that so many people out there really like the new Batman movies, and I can see why they appreciate them. I actually liked it better than WATCHMEN but slightly preferred SPIDERMAN.

    I personally think that Batman is inherently silly, and, as such, Adam West best embodies my perception of the character, much in the way that Shatner embodies Kirk. I wasn’t bored during any of the Batman movies, but I can’t really say I was involved, either. But I’d be the first to admit that I don’t get comic books at all.

    I will say, however, that I don’t think Nolan is a particularly visionary director, and I’m not a fan of Christian Bale.

    “Bateman and his sister had some creepy sexual chemistry in that episode she guested on.”

    It came as something of a relief that the after the last exchange of dialogue in the episode, when Michael uses Maeby’s “marry me” deflection, they both acknowledge the creepiness.

    There’s really no way to tap dance around it: “Arrested Development” was pretty obsessed with incest, whether between George-Michael and Maeby, Maeby and Steve Holt (Steve Holt!), GOB and Lindsay, Lindsay and Michael, or, my personal favorite, Buster and Lucille(s). Hell, they even had a joke or two about Franklin kissing Lucille. I’m inclined to think of this aspect of the show was intended as a reflection of the morally bankrupt nature of the family. But like CJ said, it’s damn funny.

    Mr. M – the lovely Ms Bateman was quite good in season two of “Californication.” Underused, but maybe her role will grow in season three.

    Mr. S – great analysis of the second X-Files movie. I think it grew quite organically out of the series finale, moreso than I thought it would. I agree with most of your points, particularly the cinematography, which, after “Millennium,” I never doubted would be beautiful. And I like the downbeat tone of the film. I just wish they had polished up the script a bit. That one agent sure dies abruptly. I think a slightly wider scope to the film could have fleshed out the current state of the FBI better; I was never quite clear that the necessity of Mulder’s presence was made clear by the new agents. Although brilliant, that one George W. Bush joke wasn’t enough for me. One of the strengths of the series is that you never forgot the machinery that the two agents worked within (and outside of). I think the movie needed a bit more context.

    I’m also not sure what I think of Connelly’s performance. It seemed a bit one-note to me, but not awful.

    The villain couple simply had to be gay. There was no other reason why one would be dedicated enough to the other that he would perform such gruesome tasks, not without some huge backstory that the film didn’t have time to accommodate. And like you said so well: it reinforced the film’s themes.

    My theory about why that particular X-Files story made it to the screen is simple: the morons at Fox, hampered by the writer’s strike, were eager to have an identifiable franchise in the theaters. They’ve made a fortune on X-files over the years and didn’t bother to pay any attention to the production, which, financially, was made on a meager budget.

  70. RRA- glad you got the same vibe I did, mate. Amusingly enough, there’s very little about the sexual relationship between the two (although the whole thing is grounded on their partnership, which was always the cornerstone anyway). It’s all handled in a very adult way, which I actually appreciated. It’s like, ‘here they are in bed, what of it?’ Its funny you should mention that sex offenders complex, because if that scene got to you, I think you get the movie. It’s just sad and hopeless and ugly… and Mulder wants to believe that it might someday be better, while Scully knows that it’s unlikely. That’s the whole movie, right there. If that doesn’t get to you, with all the pain and hopelessness it implies, the movie’s probably not going to work for you, I think. Damn, it still kinda amazes me that they released this thing as a summer blockbuster. I think it’s a gem, but what film were the suits watching? There is absolutely no way to market that shit.

    But how bout cutting poor Mr. M some slack on the Trannie 2 thing, huh?

  71. RRA, I had not heard the werewolf rumors. I was, however, expecting giant racist robots, as I do whenever I see any movie. My recent viewing of Aguirre, Wrath of God was a real letdown.

  72. Jareth — fair enough man, all good points. The whole thing with Mulder returning is handled gracefully, but doesn’t exactly make sense either (especially if you know the series). I think probably the biggest flaw in the film is that the villains stay far too much in the periphery to really have the kind of punch they needed. Still, I’m very glad to know there are a few others who appreciate its unique brand of grimly cerebral horror. I do have to say that I think Connelly is the fucking man, though. Apparently, he was molested as a child and approached the role with a surprising amount of empathy and regret, which is almost painful to watch.

  73. Mr. S – Notice how really, movies either independent or mainstream, usually don’t want to challenge or at least provoke a reflection within the viewer of anything religious.

    Alot of people either want to avoid the subject completely because that conversation got hijacked by the religious right, or said right only want their faith “reaffirmed”….not reignited. Probably why those daffy superhero movies are the only myths that get away with some of the same themes, but right under your nose, and under a secular brand. Retelling the old stories, but in their place.

    Now some do escape here and there. BAD LIEUTENANT obviously. Poor Scorsese nearly got lynched for LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, but man seeing that movie in high school probably kept me from going atheist. At least made that mythology more relatable than the cartoonish Evangelical baptist coloring books.

    Funny since that was adapted by Paul Schrader, and he did the sort of theology self-examination in his underrated DOMINION. Its a cliche to have a hero brooding over a past failure, and be a drunk as a result. Schrader instead has his priest lose his faith over what effectively wasn’t a mistake during WW2, but more feeling utterly helpless about himself and his supposed “God.”

    Of course most horror nerds don’t want that shit. So they piss on the idea of Skarsgård having to reconcile himself with the past. Not get over it easily, but accept it as he marches towards the temple and kick Satan’s ass.

  74. Mr. S – interesting point about Connelly’s performance; maybe my misgivings are the result of discomfort. I’ll certainly agree that he doesn’t depict his character in a cliched manner, thank god.

    You know, it might just be that I know him as a comedian first. I think I kept expecting him to wink at the audience.

    Whatever misgivings I’ve listed, I generally agree with your assessment of the film. As Vern would say, I think it’s a good one.

    I also watched the first X-files movie in preparation for the second one. I found it held up really well, despite being much more of an action movie. It was a really polished script.

  75. Jareth Cutestory – Didn’t you giggle though with the first X-Files movie with the FEMA revealed to be a shadow government in waiting, especially after Katrina?

  76. RAA – more accurately, I snorted; Carter obviously hadn’t been informed that Brown wasn’t capable of organizing a team to monitor his own shadow, let along an entire government. That FEMA reference was the first thing that came to my mind when they did the Bush joke in the second film.

    Carter has a strange synchronicity with these things – that episode of “The Lone Gunman” with the World Trade Towers in particular gained a lot of subtext on a later viewing.

  77. majestyk – i think you could view klaus kinski as a giant racist robot as one possible reading of “aguirre.”

  78. I watched this recently after hearing and reading about it for so long and wondering why I never watched it. I thought this was definitely one of the better teen movies I’ve seen. What I really thought after watching was that either Barry Sonnenfeld had more of a hand in this movie then he’s credited for or he completely stole his entire career from Phil Joanou and the Coen Brothers. Everything in Three O’Clock High looks like one of his movies.

  79. Jerry: (in bathroom, approaching Mitchell) “Can I ask you a question?”
    Mitchell: (grim) “If you’re a fag.’

    You know to this day, 20 years later, I still say, or think that line when someone asks me “Can I ask you a question.” So in saying this I never imagined THREE O’CLOCK HIGH having an impact on me or being in my top twenty 80’s films muchless top forty – or fifty, but somehow it got into my psyche. That was an era when we used to repeat lines for months after seeing the film. FULL METAL JACKET was repeated for about a year. Now no one remembers a film the next day and people don’t repeat/mimic lines because it doesn’t stick with them. For better, or for worse, THREE O’CLOCK HIGH stuck in my head and with age, although I haven’t seen the film in years, I root for the bully.

  80. RRA — yeah, oddly enough that kind of awkward title I WANT TO BELIEVE fits the theme of the movie so perfectly you almost can’t believe that it was just a coincidence that it had been with the series so long. It’s a very unusual American film which simply asks WHY we believe without either offering us us proof that we should or decrying us for lying to ourselves. It acknowledges that belief in UFOS is the same as belief in God, but doesn’t necessarily condone or condemn it. At the end, one would think Scully had less reason than ever to believe (in hope, redemption, love) but I think its clear that the last shot is her realizing that she, too, not only wants to believe, but has to. Is that inspiring or depressing? The movie’s not gonna make up your mind for you. It’s pretty cool.

    Jareth — To my mind, Connelly’s (last?) scene in the movie is one of the most painful I’ve seen on-screen in a long time. When we meet him, he’s this guy living with the crushing knowledge of the crimes he’s committed, stirred to some kind of life and belief again by the hope that God is giving him one last chance to save someone and redeem himself. Nope. He just gets to find out it was all his fault to begin with, and that he didn’t save anyone anyway. Connelly’s face just melts. He turns his head away and just kind of deflates. He can hardly even get out an “oh, no, oh no…” A few scenes later, we find out he’s died.

    Connelly hardly crack a smile the whole way through, but you get a sense of his mounting excitement that the redemption he’s been searching for his whole adult life may be within reach (look at his near manic energy in his first scene, where he falls to the ground and starts frantically digging through the snow). His natural charisma and lively presence, even amid all that self-loathing, make him a character we can kind of like, and then at the end, they just rip all that away and leave him with nothing. That’s harsh, man, fucking hash. Man, talking about this, I still can’t believe any suit actually watched this movie before deciding to release it opposite fucking BATMAN.

    As for the FEMA stuff, one of the awesome things about X-files is that the writers always had their ear to the ground for urban legends and conspiracy theories. Nowadays, we know FEMA couldn’t find their asses with both hands, but at the time there was tons of paranoia among fringe groups (who were just discovering each other via the internet) about FEMA and other government agencies. Most of the conspiracy stuff in the show comes from things which were really being discussed by these communities. Which is both cool and for some reason kind of makes the far-fetched stuff seem more grounded in reality. And, of course, plenty of people had discussed something like the pilot for LONE GUNMAN; even the government had explicit scenarios which resembled it, although of course they denied it like assholes until someone finally called them out on it. Shows like House today have teams of people who go through the news and find plot ideas; back then, the writers just needed to write to groups like MUFON (yes, they’re real) for all the material they’d need. Cool, huh?

  81. Jareth Cutestory

    October 4th, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    As always, Mr. S, excellent points.

    I watched I WANT TO BELIEVE again last night with your comments in mind. Connelly’s performance was fine; the final crushing realization that he has – even knowing it was coming – was moving.

    And Anderson’s performance was fantastic.

    Another thing I noticed: the Bush joke is funny, but its genius is in Duchovney’s physical acting as he sort of smirks and shrugs at Scully. Tons of show history are commented on there in one brief gesture.

    The balance Carter strikes between belief/disbelief, science/faith was as well done as any of the series’ episodes, but, you’re right, with way more payoff in this film. Downplaying the aliens, conspiracies and spooks opened the film to provide a series’ worth of emotional weight to the characters.

    The whole film would have been better received it it was a tv special; it doesn’t deserve to have the weight of an “event” picture thrust upon it, but, like you said, kudos to Carter for having the guts to subvert the blockbuster.

  82. Jareth — just as pleased as could be that you enjoyed it, mate. And I agree totally, the idea that it could ever be a successful summer “event” movie is laughable, which unfortunately meant that the majority of the people walking out of the theaters felt it hadn’t delivered what had been sold to them. That’s why I’m on a one-man quest to get folks to give it another chance now that the season of gloomy, arty stuff is upon us.

    Seriously though, releasing the thing opposite 200 mil+ budget DARK KNIGHT? Maybe the worst decision made by Fox that whole year, and as you know, it has feirce competition in that regard. I love spectacle and craziness (and aliens, and the first X-FILES movie) plenty, so I’m hoping in a few years folks will forget the miserable reception of I WANT TO BELIEVE and pony up a big final X-FILES movie which will complete the series and blow shit up real good. But even if that never happens I for one will always consider BELIEVE to be an odd but surprisingly fitting coda to the series.

  83. Remember my earlier posts, in which I told you about the movie has in Germany a title that sounds like a drama about violence and has a cheap action movie poster? If not, just scroll up.
    Anyway, I just found out that it came out on DVD a few months ago…and don’t think they now fixed the mistake and tried to finally sell it as a comedy:



  84. CJ – AMAZING! How many purchasers blind-buying this movie in Germany will be, I wonder …

    Sorry I’m late to the party everyone; I absolutely LOVE the discussion going on here.

    One question I was thinking about that someone raised was why does Buddy wait until 3:00 o’clock. While the best answer was stated before (because it’s in the script, and we need time for the story to actually play out), I think another answer is that this deliberate decision by Buddy to conduct a beating after school demonstrates how studious Buddy actually is. He is “caught” reading in the library, he is able to answer the math problems without cheating, and in addition to not wanting to be “known” (which a fight during school hours would certainly create), he has better things to do during school time (unlike, say … Spicoli). In fact, the only time I can recall Buddy actually taking out any sort of aggression on Mitchel is in the bathroom (not in a classroom) or during the school pep rally (not in a classroom). School time is learn time, and 3:00 o’clock time is die time, essentially.

    With this said, Buddy really is more of a tragic character than I gave him credit for, and I hold this site accountable for this newfound knowledge, especially bringing to light the rumours about Mitchell at the end bringing the story full circle (brilliant), the nerd getting 3 women and not learning any lessons from this, as well as the Speilberg connection.

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