Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Director: Amy Heckerling Cast: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Brain Backer, Robert Romanus, Phoebe Cates (and also Nicholas Cage for all of 5 seconds)

We follow the escapades of a group of high school students over the course of a year, including romance, jobs, studies and general teenagery-ness.

Fast Times is a bit of a cult classic, lesser known than some of the other 1980s high school student flicks, but feels like one of the more authentic or realistic ones. Indeed, the story is based on the experiences of film-maker Cameron Crowe, who spent a year undercover as a high school student and wrote a book on his experiences. The events feel a lot more like stuff that would actually happen to regular teenagers, rather than far-fetched hijinks, and I think it definitely adds to the enjoyability of the film if you can look back and reminisce on some of your own high school experiences.

Not all the stories are totally connected and the links between the characters or individual plots can be a bit tenuous, so from a standard film-viewing perspective it might seem a little unstructured or random. However, this also adds to the realism, so we can mostly forgive that. I would also warn that not all the scenes would probably get past a film classification board today, so might be a little odd for modern audiences (mainly the underage sex). It’s not one I’d watch with my parents…

This is definitely a must-see for 80s fans, especially as it’s up there in the genre of “golden-age” classics such as The Breakfast ClubBack to the Future or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It’s certainly not appropriate for younger audiences (I think it’s rated 18 here in the UK), but is a good dose of nostalgia for adults.

3 stars

All Eyez on Me (2017)

Director: Benny Boom Cast: Demetrius Shipp Jr, Danai Gurira, Dominic Santana, Kat Graham, Annie Ilonzeh

Long time, no activity on ScreenSnap. Apologies for the hiatus- it’s been a hectic few months but what better way to ease back in than to review the biopic of one of my all time fave humans, Tupac Shakur. All Eyez on Me follows the story of the legendary rapper from his early childhood to his death in 1996, exploring the relationships and experiences that made him who he was.

As I’ve mentioned, I love 2pac and I was excited to see how his life would be represented on screen. On the whole, I was pretty pleased- people often underrate what a good writer and poet he actually was, (by tarring the whole hip-hop genre with one brush) and the movie did a good job of showing these aspects of his life, for example exploring his time at the Baltimore School of the Arts. For someone watching the film who didn’t know much about his life, I think this part would surprise them positively and I was glad they showed these more unknown bits.

Unfortunately though, the structure of the film made the whole thing a bit bitty and I felt like some scenes that could have gone somewhere were cut off, while other scenes lingered for too long. The first half of the film is structured mainly with flashbacks, with the present being an interview with Tupac while he’s in prison. Then once the flashbacks catch up with the present (prison), the rest of the film just follows a linear timeline. This felt a bit random- I felt it should have been one or the other, and it meant that the flashbacks were shorter and ended just as they were getting interesting, while the second half of the film felt like it went on and on. Consequently, some parts were missed and others were too over-the-top.

The stand-out character was Afeni, Tupac’s mother, and I was pleased that they did spend quite a bit of time exploring her story and their relationship, as this was essential to understanding the person that Tupac became. I was definitely most convinced by the performance of Danai Gurira (of The Walking Dead fame), who played Afeni. Following Straight Outta Compton, in which all the characters were cast superbly and the actors captured their characters almost flawlessly, All Eyez on Me wasn’t quite as good at this. The guy who played Tupac looked almost exactly like him and captured his mannerisms pretty well, but the others just weren’t quite as good. After watching Straight Outta Compton I came away amazed at how well they managed it, but this one didn’t have quite the same effect.

I would recommend this to people who already know a bit about Tupac and who are already fans, but generally if you’re not interested already it will probably be quite boring. As far as biopics go, I don’t think it would convince people to find out more about his life or music (whereas I thought the opposite about Straight Outta Compton). A solid effort but nothing outstanding. The soundtrack is pretty good though.

2.5 stars

ScreenSnap Goes Global: Lone Pine Film Museum, Lone Pine, California

dscn4148For another thrilling instalment of my travels tracking film around the world, let me introduce Lone Pine Film Museum. I must admit, I stumbled across this absolute gem purely by accident when my family and I happened to be staying in the small town of Lone Pine after driving through Death Valley on our way towards Yosemite National Park. We had no idea it was there- we had a free morning and thought we might as well give it a shot. And it changed my life.

(Well not exactly, but it certainly sparked my interest in Westerns.)

dscn4153Lone Pine and the surrounding wilderness has been a prime filming location for not only classic Westerns, but a number of other famous films spanning a number of genres. Walk into the entrance hall and you’ll see Dr Schultz’s carriage from the beginning of Django Unchained, parts of which were filmed nearby, and then passing through you’ll go on to exhibitions featuring a huge selection of other props, posters, costumes and more. Some examples of well-known blockbusters that were filmed in the area include Gunga Din, Iron Man, Tremors, Star Wars, Gladiator, plus a range of Westerns spanning the decades. (Incidentally, Lone Pine’s burger restaurant has an amazing collection of John Wayne memorabilia as its decor.)

So if you’re ever in the area, definitely give this museum a visit. There’ll definitely be films represented there that you’ve seen, and probably some that you would least expect. It’s not huge but full of stuff so ideal if you’ve got a spare hour or two.

Photos my own.

Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Full Metal Jacket

Director: Stanley Kubrick Cast: Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, Vincent D’Onofrio, Lee Ermey, Dorian Harwood, Arliss Howard, Kevyn Major Howard, Ed O’Ross

A group of young recruits scrape through a tough bootcamp before heading off to Vietnam to join the war. Stanley Kubrick adds his take on a brutal and traumatic war that has left its scar on the American national consciousness.

I find this period of history fascinating (the Cold War), and I loved Apocalypse Now. Plus I can’t recommend enough the last Kubrick film I watched, Dr Strangelove. However, Full Metal Jacket didn’t really grab me. The film kind of feels like it’s actually two different films stuck together: we start off following the new recruits at a training camp on American soil, which I thought was simply setting the scene- until we were an hour into the film and still there. Then they get shipped out to Vietnam and it becomes a film about the war. The two parts are obviously linked, but it feels like the film can’t really decide if it’s about the traumatic training process or the traumatic war (either way, traumatic is the key theme here).

Don’t get me wrong, both halves of the film are enjoyable (probably not the right word) to watch and Kubrick clearly makes his points about the military lifestyle and the pointlessness of the Vietnam War. However, while the training camp part has a storyline that progresses, the war half doesn’t really have much of a plot; stuff just kind of happens. Maybe that’s a point that Kubrick is trying to make- I just found that the film was a bit random from a viewer’s perspective.

The film is violent and distressing so certainly not for family viewing. As I say, I find this period of history interesting, and it is certainly a must-see for those who have enjoyed war films in the past and know that they enjoy the genre. However I tend to find that war movies don’t prove particularly popular with those who don’t have an active interest in the historical aspect in question, so it won’t be a winner for everyone. If you haven’t enjoyed war films particularly in the past, I probably wouldn’t recommend this one in order to change your mind.

3 stars