Ah, September, when the weather grows cooler, the leaves start to change, and everyone goes back to school including everyone in higher education. In honor of this timeless rite of passage consider one of the following films set on campus.
Animal House (1978) No such list would be complete without the immortal classic about a dean’s quest to expel the Delta Tau Chi fraternity from his campus in 1962. With fabulous turns by Kevin Bacon and the late great John Belushi, Animal House is generally considered the definitive frat comedy. Besides being side splittingly hilarious, “Thank you sir may I have another?” it’s also almost scarily on point, as my father (a former fraternity president) and uncle (a former frat rabble rouser) can both attest.
Real Genius (1985) Mitch Taylor (Gabe Jarrett) is one of the youngest students ever accepted to Pacific Tech university (loosely based on CalTech). He and his science club legend roommate Chris Knight (Val Kilmer) partner up on a laser project together. But when their teacher and mentor steals their laser and plans to put it to use as a weapon, they scheme for payback. One of the great 80’s classics.
Drumline (2002) This musical/drama revolves around a fictional historical black college and university marching band and their plans to compete at the BET Big Southern Classic. Starring young rapper Nick Cannon, Zoe Saldana, at the beginning of her career, and Orlando Jones, it has an over 80 percent fresh rating on the Tomatometer and was nominated for Outstanding Motion Picture by NAACP Image Awards as well as being nominated for three Teen Choice Awards including Best Drama, Best Actor, and Best Breakout Star.
Accepted (2006) In this surprisingly witty, insightful, and even heart-warming comedy a group of various high school students having all been rejected by the colleges of their choice, create their own fake college. Much to their surprise their fake college soon becomes a magnet for scores of other misfits who’ve also failed to find acceptance elsewhere AND starts to function as an actual educational center. Starring a young Justin Long and Jonah Hill not to mention Lewis Black at the top of his game.
Starter for 10 (2006) This comedy-drama is adapted from the novel of the same name and set in the 80’s. James MacAvoy is at his most charming here playing Brian Jackson a first year university student who’s lifelong dream is to appear on the televised quiz show University Challenge. He’s over the moon when he finally makes the team even if the captain Patrick (a hysterically funny turn by Benedict Cumberbatch) is a stuck-up pretentious prig. But complications ensue for Brian in the form of former mate Spencer who feels abandoned (Dominic Cooper) and two very different women aristocratic blond beauty Alice (Alive Eve) and political activist Rebecca (Rebecca Hall).
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Responsible for such modern classics as Fargo and The Big Lebowski, Joel and Ethan Coen need little introduction. With a handful of Oscars and over a dozen highly-praised works behind them, the Coen brothers are well-versed in crafting thoughtful, multi-layered entertainment. Sure to please Coen fans and film buffs alike is their latest endeavor, Hail, Caesar!, which premieres this weekend.
Opening in a confessional booth, Hail, Caesar! follows movie studio fixer, Eddie Mannix, over the course of a day as he navigates through problems on-set and off. On this specific day, Mannix finds himself preoccupied with tracking down film star Baird Whitlock, who has been kidnapped by a group called The Future. Mannix must round up the $100,000 ransom demanded from Whitlock’s kidnappers, all the while keeping tabloid journalists at bay, appeasing irksome actors and directors, and struggling to hide his smoking habit from his wife.
Mannix is played by the versatile Josh Brolin, who shines here as the well-intentioned studio exec with too much on his plate. Most of the film is dominated by Brolin, who pulls off his character with aplomb. Playing the rather daft Baird Whitlock is George Clooney, who spends much of the movie in wide-eyed bewilderment. Despite Clooney’s decent acting chops, it’s grating to see so much screen time devoted to one of Hollywood’s most overexposed actors.
It would have been far more gratifying to see more of the sweetly charming Hobie Doyle, played by Beautiful Creatures actor Alden Ehrenreich, or the hilarious director Laurence Laurentz, played by the affable Ralph Fiennes. Channing Tatum—who can’t seem to abandon his dancing roots, even here—is perfect as Burt Gurney, as is Tilda Swinton, who plays twin columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker. Other notable, but brief, appearances include Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, and Jonah Hill.
In addition to an excellent cast, Hail, Caesar! features stellar cinematography. With much humor and flair, Hail, Caesar! pays homage to Hollywood’s golden era, relying on the movie-within-a-movie format to recall the glitz and glamour of yesteryear. Indeed, the movie touches on film noir, and has many tightly choreographed, colorful scenes that are reminiscent of classic musicals. Though the movie-within-a-movie adds a lot of visual impact and interest, it does feel like the overall plotline gets a bit muddled as a result, which isn’t helped by the multiple storylines happening throughout the film.
An amalgamation of quirk and slapstick, Hail, Caesar! also feels like esoteric comedy at times. There are plenty of laughs to be had, yet some audiences might find themselves alienated from the humor. Though the Coen brothers manage to pull it off, some of the plotlines are also admittedly absurd. Though ambitious, the movie veers away from the mainstream perhaps too much to be embraced by broader audiences. Ultimately, however, Hail, Caesar! offers mild, light-hearted entertainment that is a refreshing reprieve from the perfunctory noise and excess offered by standard big-budget pictures currently in cinemas.
Hail, Caesar! opens nationwide on Friday, February 5, 2016.