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Austin Chronicle Scanlines

July 8, 1997:  ("Scanlines" wishes to thank Encore Movies & Music, I Luv Video, and Vulcan Video for their help in providing videos and laser discs)


Freeway

D: Matthew Bright (1996)
with Reese Witherspoon, Amanda Plummer, Kiefer Sutherland, Brooke Shields



Admit it. Didn't seeing Ferris Bueller's Day Off make you do something just a little naughty? Anyone? Anyone?

The opening credits for this film show R. Crumb-ish drawings of sexy Little Red Riding Hoods being chased by a lascivious wolf, and that's exactly what Freeway turns out to be: a modern-day Little Red Riding Hood story. When first we meet heroine Vanessa (Reese Witherspoon), she's in a class with her boyfriend learning how to read at kindergarten level. Her coke-whore mom gets arrested by an undercover cop while her stepdad paws her in the motel room where they all live. Rather than go to foster care, Vanessa handcuffs her probation officer to the bed and sets off for her grandma's house, basket in hand. She says good-bye to her boyfriend, who gives her a gun to sell to finance her trip. On the way, she's picked up by yuppie/solid citizen/youth counselor Kiefer Sutherland, who also happens to be the big bad wolf in the form of the Highway 5 serial killer.... Maybe you've gotten weary of serial killers in movies, but Kiefer Sutherland brings a new twist to his part, oozing real malevolence as the hideously (yet somehow comically) disfigured Bob. This movie is disturbing, terrifically violent and funny as hell, breaking free of clichés you'd expect to see in this kind of film. Vanessa is a real switch as well; when you think she's going to be another helpless victim, she turns out to be self-reliant and tough. She's smart, sexy, and takes absolutely no shit from anyone, not even the cops -- expect to see more of Reese Witherspoon in the future. An original, inventive twist on a too-familiar theme, with great dialogue, believable characters and bizarre set pieces. -- Jerry Renshaw


Toto the Hero (TOTO LE HERO)

D: Jaco van Dormael (1991)
with Michel Bouquet, Mireille Perrier, Pascal Duquenne, Didier Ferney

"Nothing ever happened in this guy's story," portends the opening of this French treasure, but don't you believe it. A stunning tale that combines mystery, fantasy, drama, action, comedy, and a little bit of everything else, Toto The Hero (Toto le Hero) is one of those films that's kept me coming back again and again, because I get a little more out of it with every viewing. The plot revolves around Thomas (Bouquet, as an adult), a simple man who is convinced that he was switched at birth with neighbor Louis (Ferney), the kid who had it all, and the story sweeps us from Thomas' days in the crib to his ultimate revenge on Alfred as an old man. Brilliantly constructed, the film tracks Thomas at three different ages (plus additional sidetracking) á la Slaughterhouse Five, so it requires a bit of effort on the viewer's part to keep up with the plot, not to mention the subtitles. While van Dormael and Duquenne worked together again recently on the critically disregarded The Eighth Day, Toto already has the makings of a long-term classic, and should simply not be missed. -- Christopher Null


Sixteen Candles
The Breakfast Club
Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Yes, John Hughes should be flogged for giving careers to Molly Ringwald and Judd Nelson -- careers which still run off their teen momentum -- he did, however, possess a certain cinematic gift. Six hours of vicariously re-living 10th grade via the trilogy of Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off and it became clear: Lies. Lies. All lies. In Sixteen Candles (1984, D: John Hughes; with Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Michael Schoeffling, Paul Dooley) the yearnings of Samantha Baker (Ringwald) rest upon the mistaken notion that high schoolers can actually experience an emotionally mature relationship that transcends social caste or clique. Worse, Hughes follows through with that myth, leading to the fabrication-turned-universal-teen-movie-theme of either dweeb gets girl or dweebette gets quarterback. Please, in no world is it metaphysically possible for "the Geek" (Anthony Michael Hall) to end up with the prom queen. Then there is the big lie of The Breakfast Club (1985, D: John Hughes; with Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, Anthony Michael Hall, Emilio Estevez). Saturday morning detention? Uh-uh. Every high school in these United States of America holds detention after school Monday through Thursday. Not even Mr. Roark could get away with holding D-hall on a weekend. Finally, there is the jewel in Hughes' triple crown of hoax: Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986, D: John Hughes; with Matthew Broderick, Mia Sara, Allen Ruck, Jeffrey Jones, Jennifer Grey). While this flick is delightfully fun and charming in its deviousness, it is based on the premise that when teenagers dodge a day of class they are not going to drink, they are not going to do drugs nor are they going to have sex. Yeah, right. Even granting the purely wholesome leitmotif, some of what Ferris, Sloan, and Cameron do still has a very low verisimilitude quotient. Take in a Cubs game? Sure. An art gallery? No way, no day. The kind of kids who go to art museums do not skip school. Cumulatively though, given the whole teen oeuvre, Hughes did hit upon something. Paraphrasing Spalding Gray paraphrasing someone more consequential, Hughes told the lie that tells the truth. Once you quit nitpicking and get beyond the happily-ever-after stuff, you find in Hughes' films an almost Woody Allen-like understanding of setting. Unlike, say Linklater's subUrbia, where the region on the city fringe is assumed to be this wasteland of pre-packaged homogeneity, a priori ruining kids' lives, Hughes' films assume a kinder, gentler, and more accurate take on the 'burbs, specifically (and exclusively) the Chicagoland 'burbs. The truth is that the suburbs, while maybe a cultural vacuum, are a relatively nice place. The lawns are green, the schools are good, the crises are small, and there is usually plenty of parking. Hughes recognizes the danger of blandness in the land of strip malls, but, corny as it may be, his characters, while products of their surroundings, overcome the negative aspects and manage to carve out nice identities anyway. The suburbs aren't hell on earth. They're not even anything to dye your hair orange about. They are just a mildly boring and relatively safe place to grow up. -- Michael Bertin






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