A Look Back: Beetlejuice

Ted: I think it’s time to play the Beetlejuice card.

John: What?

Ted: No it’ll be fine, he’ll be on our side! Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetle…

John: Hey, you are messing with powers you do not understand all right! Cut the shit! –  From “Ted 2”

The Tim Burton-directed “Beetlejuice” answers the question: How would I respond if my spouse and I died, but wound up stuck in our home, with a horrific family living there, who all our attempts to scare away backfire royally? Well, if you’re a nice dorky couple, played by Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis, who meet a fatal death in a car accident, and then, after returning home, discover that there is nothing but howling wilderness and sandworms outside the door, you make blunder after blunder before learning a valuable lesson. Since they’ve become traditional ghosts in the sense that they’re invisible (except to “strange and unusual” souls), you might think they could do a lot of psychological damage, but as their new tenants (Jeffrey Jones, Catherine O’Hara and Winona Ryder) aren’t easily spooked, it’s going to take a lot of ingenuity to get them to leave.

At first, Alec and Geena try various lame things like creeping around in sheets, but that doesn’t work.  The only one who can see them is Winona (playing a typical Winona role as a black-clad, morose troubled teen) who is sympathetic to their plight.  They also go a little more hardcore and play a prank on Jeffrey, Catherine, and their equally obnoxious friends involving the song “Day O,” but even that fails.  (Turns out even pretentious artsy yuppies have a sense of humor.)  Eventually, they make an appointment for help in the afterlife, which is presented as being as annoyingly petty and bureaucratic as any real world institution, and they are told that for now, it’s up to them. Although they’re discouraged from doing it, they wind up contacting an exorcist called Beetlejuice (a bastardization of Betelgeuse, played by Michael Keaton), who agrees to help them – for a price. Michael is what a former teacher of mine used to call rude, crude and socially unacceptable, and he quickly wears out his welcome with his new clients.

After more high jinks, including a séance gone wrong, the two families reach an amicable agreement, and Winona’s character, despite undergoing trauma, gets to keep her new ghost friends.  Most of the adults in the movie learn a valuable lesson about “messing with powers you do not understand,” but then if they had avoided doing so in the first place, there wouldn’t be a movie.

 

 

 

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A Look Back: The Craft

Confession: I was an adult before I could bring myself to sit through horror movies and still be able to get at least a few hours of sleep the following night. So there’s a gaping hole in my knowledge of that genre. (Which is to say, I’ve never seen anything with a character called Freddy or Jason.) But then I realized the obvious: that God created eyes so that they could be shut as well as open, and in an emergency, ears could also be plugged, though that seemed a waste of a movie.

So in honor of upcoming Halloween, I’ll review “The Craft,” a film about a group of teen girls who form a coven to get back at everyone in their life who makes them miserable, after a new girl (Robin Tunney) moves to L.A. and starts attending their private Catholic school. There is plenty of creepy magic, but the main focus in the beginning is on the non-supernatural terrors of life: which are respectively, a poor white trash (the movie’s terms, not mine) reputation (Fairuza Balk); a burned back which is treatment resistant (Neve Campbell); and a racist Queen Bee played by Christine Taylor (for Rachel True). Robin’s character has also suffered trauma, as evidenced by her scarred wrists, though she doesn’t want to talk about it. At first, the three are equally unpleasant to Robin as they are to their peers, though Robin has done zilch to antagonize them. But this way, she’s more receptive to the first student who is friendly: a jock (Skeet Ulrich) who explains that everyone considers the three girls freaks and then asks her out. When the date goes awry, Robin winds up bonding with Fairuza’s clique after Skeet compromises her reputation (which he’s also done to Fairuza).

To get away from school and just ordinary miserable life, the girls then go on a field trip of sorts to a destination that they consider magic-friendly, and there they explain to Robin that she is destined to be part of their coven (they need someone at all four corners: North, South, etc. to properly cast spells). Robin does have a knack for experiencing supernatural phenomena, which earns her the grudging approval of Fairuza, their leader. At first, the girls are successful beyond their expectations, but then things start to go sour, after they cast a spell on a deserted beach, and Fairuza returns unhinged, although she was never that stable to begin with.  Soon she’s antagonized Robin, and this is when the movie begins to resemble another teen horror revenge flick called “Carrie.”

It’s too bad that the movie turns so lurid and over-the-top at the finale because “The Craft,” begins as a decent movie with insights into teen bullying, ostracism and the double standards of sexual behavior for adolescent girls vs. boys.  But if you want a horror film that, like junk food, is satisfying in the short term, then this is a good choice.

 

 

Movie Review: Steve Jobs

I’m not a Hollywood actor, but I imagine a role like Steve Jobs is catnip to actors who long to emote for the majority of the movie and play a tortured, irascible genius.  In this case, it seems to mean wearing a black turtleneck and going full on Veruca Salt.  Michael Fassbender in the just-released “Steve Jobs” (they’re rapidly running out of biopic titles for this man) gets many, many chances here to express disdain, irritation, annoyance, and wrath.  Lots of wrath.  And in this case, some of it is justified, since everyone in his life seems to seize the opportunity to tell him what a dick he is, shortly before he has to go out and make a presentation.  Why this appears to be the only time Michael is available for heart-to-heart (a misnomer) talks is never explained, so the viewer must take it for granted that it just is.  Throughout the film, Michael mostly strides around backstage, snapping at inept colleagues, alienating his daughter and her impoverished, resentful mother, and demanding the impossible: a dress shirt with a breast pocket, for instance, at a time when all stores are closed.  Eventually, he orders someone to procure an Oompa Loompa and is promptly sent down the garbage chute  No, not really, but you kind of wish he would.

Anyway, this movie, for all its strengths, is basically two hours of people not getting along.  All the secondary characters (Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen and Jeff Daniels) don’t let Michael intimidate them and shoot clever dialogue back at the speed of light, often at top volume.  I honestly doubt there is more than two seconds of silence in this entire movie, or if there was, I don’t remember.  There is a LOT of yelling, and at one point, Jeff’s face (he’s playing John Sculley) turns the shade of a ripe plum.  Sometimes for variety, we’re treated to a close-up of Michael, which is a great opportunity to see his facial muscles twitching with rage.  Or barely suppressed rage, who knows?  Sitting through this movie is like being trapped on a long car trip with passengers who can’t get along.  If during your youth, your parents spent a lot of time cursing, screaming, bickering and trying to one up each other, this is a great trigger movie.  Just a warning.

If you’re tempted to flee, though, that’s too bad, because the movie does have strong performances from most of the cast.  Kate’s accent comes and goes, but otherwise, she does a great job, and so do Seth and Jeff.  I did see “Jobs” with Ashton Kutcher when it was released, and this is probably a minority opinion, but it seems like the main difference between him and Michael is that Michael has a much better scriptwriter.  I think two movies on Jobs, as fascinating as he is, is my limit, as I am still unclear on exactly who left when at Apple, who got mad at who, who said what about who, and for what reasons, though I think one of the points this movie was making was that no one, not even the participants themselves, know.  At one point, Kate accuses Michael of turning into “the Steve Jobs revenge machine,” which is an accurate term,  At the end, we learn why Jobs is so heartless, but it’s likely that you already know – it’s a perhaps true but unoriginal reason, especially by Hollywood movie plot standards.  Michael gets to have yet another heart-to-heart with his now college age daughter and admit that he’s “poorly made.”  Or as Willy Wonka put it, “a bad egg.”

 

 

Movie Review: Bridge of Spies

The first movie I ever saw Tom Hanks in was “Big,” (my entire theater was in stitches) and I still have a series of images of him from that movie that make me laugh.  Tom, dressed in a pastel tux at a company party, nibbling dubiously at a miniature ear of corn.  Tom standing up in the back of a limo.  And of course, Tom performing “Chopsticks” with his boss in FAO Schwarz.  After that, even when he was playing adults who weren’t actually twelve-year-old boys, he always seemed to be the equivalent of the cool uncle, the only one in the family who isn’t married and settled, and who does stuff like eat Cocoa Pops for dinner and stay up until midnight.  Of course, eventually, Tom took on more and more serious roles, and now, he is pretty awesome at playing Tom Hanks, which is good news for his latest film, the Cold War-era drama, Spielberg-directed “Bridge of Spies.”

The movie opens, to show it wants to Be Taken Seriously, with a close-up of a someone’s pensive face.  Then on second thought, it’s actually an image in a painting, or perhaps a reflection, and the line between what people think/expect and what actually is occurring is something explored in the film.  The first ten or so minutes have no dialogue, just shots of men in suits scuttling around a train station, and then a group of FBI agents bursts in on an elderly man (Mark Rylance) and start searching his home.  Convinced he’s a Soviet spy (which he is), they arrest him, but this being the US, decide to put him on trial, although it’s clear that that’s just a formality.  Enter Jim Donovan, a Brooklyn lawyer (Tom Hanks), who is charged by his boss (Alan Alda) to represent Mark in court.  Given the time period, pretty much everyone sees Mark as a traitor who deserves the death penalty, and Jim’s spouse isn’t too thrilled about anonymous threats to their safety (though unlike Russell Crowe’s wife in “The Insider,” she does not go so far as to pack up the kids and leave).  The judge himself is also convinced ahead of time, and we can tell he’s not a good guy because when Tom visits him at home, he makes him hold his half-full drink glass as if Tom’s his own personal butler.  So it looks to be an uphill battle.

Meanwhile the CIA has recruited a group of fresh-faced guys to fly a top secret spy mission, and eventually, one gets captured by the enemy.  Thus the stage is set for Tom to not only successfully argue that his client does not deserve the death penalty, but also to engineer a swap of “spies.”  This means going to East Berlin, at the time the wall is going up, which is portrayed as a monochromatic kind of place where it’s always freezing or snowing.  It turns out that Tom’s job is not as simple as he originally thought.

This movie is two and a half hours long, and I admit, although I’m glad I saw it, there were a few times where it felt much longer.  It is, as you’d expect, very light on humor, even the black sort, and Tom’s character is straightforward: he’s going to do the right thing no matter who he alienates, and there’s not a huge moral struggle going on beneath that steely veneer.  (His one quirk is how he takes his coffee, kind of like Tom Cruise’s YooHoo passion in “A Few Good Men.”)  Mark also gives an impressive performance.  Overall, this is the kind of movie that you’re more glad to have seen than be seeing it in the first place, though it certainly should be remembered come Oscar-nomination time.

 

 

An Abridged Script: The Intern

FADE IN

ROBERT DE NIRO is addressing the audience, no wait, he’s talking into a newfangled video camera.

Hello, it’s me, Bob. I’m a RETIRED WIDOWER, who’s bored out of his gourd with Tai Chi and going to funerals every week. That’s why I’m doing this video interview to show ANNE HATHAWAY that I’m a perfect fit for her ONLINE FASHION COMPANY INTERNSHIP. I was originally going to haul out my portable Corona to type up a cover letter and resume, until I realized that I needed to get with the times. So here I am…

(real line)
I still have music in me!

(under breath)
I guess anyone who’s expecting the snarky dialogue of THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA is going to be disappointed. Oh well.

INT. ANNE’S FASHION COMPANY HEADQUARTERS

HIP ANNE HATHAWAY rides a bike indoors through a crowd of HIP MILLENIALS who part like the Red Sea before her because she is the BOSS. And FEMALE! A FEMALE BOSS in 2015 – OMG, stop the presses! No wait, too last century – send out some tweets instead! Then she conferences with ADAM DEVINE.

ADAM DeVINE – HER VEEP, ASSISTANT or JUST SOMEONE TO COMPLAIN TO
Remember when you said you wanted to mentor a specific INTERN for our upcoming program? Well, we’ve got ROBERT DE NIRO, who’ll be great because he has lots of EXPERIENCE, even if it was with a phone book company. Plus, he looks unlikely to keel over anytime soon.

ANNE HATHAWAY
(scrunches up face adorably)
We’re implementing an INTERSHIP PROGRAM? Oh wait, yeah. Okay, let’s go with ROBERT because I can’t possibly work with a senior female intern, as I have MAJOR MOTHER ISSUES. Shit, that MESSY DESK is driving me crazy.

ADAM DeVINE
I know, it looks like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Let’s assume it’s a repository for people’s random junk and not someone’s actual workstation.

ANNE HATHAWAY
Well, being the BOSS of this operation, I can’t possibly REQUEST that someone else clean it up, so I’m just going to bitch about it every time I go by.

ROBERT gets the position – cue the wacky intergenerational misunderstandings!

INT. ANNE’s OFFICE

ANNE HATHAWAY
You realize that in true movie comedy tradition, we can’t possibly get along right away, although we are both adults, well out of school, and I’m supposed to have at least a modicum of maturity in order to have made this company a success?

ROBERT DE NIRO
(affably)
I’m aware of that, yes, so I expect a period of awkward dancing around each other until boom, one day, we bond.

ANNE HATHAWAY
Cool! Oh, by the way, leave the door open – no, shut – Is it me, or is my CHARACTER coming across as a major flake, not just super stressed? Never mind, don’t answer that.

ROBERT DE NIRO
(smiles agreeably, shuts door and leaves to get started charming the pants off EVERYONE ELSE in the OFFICE)

INT. OFFICE – A FEW DAYS LATER

ROBERT’s HIP BUT CLUELESS COLLEAGUE
So there’s this girl? Who got mad and won’t talk to me? It’s driving me crazy, man.

ROBERT DE NIRO
You should talk to her in person to show her how much you care. Also, it can’t hurt to carry a handkerchief in case she starts to cry.

RHBCC
(is happy with ROBERT’s sage advice)

Suddenly, ANNE enters and does a double take.

ANNE HATHAWAY
OMG, who cleaned up that HORRIBLE MESSY DESK? You are a miracle worker, ROBERT.

ROBERT DE NIRO
(smiles agreeably, continues to effortlessly endear himself to his COLLEAGUES)

ANNE HATHAWAY
I’m so impressed that I’m going to have RENE RUSSO, our company masseuse, give you a MASSAGE.

ROBERT DE NIRO
Jeez, what kind of reward would I get for actually accomplishing something meaningful – no, wait, let’s keep this MOVIE PG-13.

RENE RUSSO
(probing further and further south of ROBERT’s shoulders)
Just relax and enjoy!

ROBERT DE NIRO
(trying to control natural reaction of a heterosexual male)
Most kind of you. Say, would you like to maybe grab coffee or see a funeral together sometime?

RENE RUSSO
(intrigued)
Why not?

RHBCC
Wow, old people actually have a LIBIDO. Who knew?

AUDIENCE MEMBERS in ROBERT’s AGE RANGE
(roll eyes, not for the last time)

EXT. STREET OUTSIDE OFFICE

ROBERT goes out to confront ANNE’s CHAUFFEUR.

ROBERT DE NIRO
Er, I happened to be glancing out the window, and I noticed you drinking something out of a paper bag. So, anyway, I’m going to have to ask you NOT to drive ANNE home. I’ll do it instead.

CHAUFFEUR
(stamps feet, disappears in a puff of black smoke, is never seen or heard from again)

ANNE HATHAWAY
Gosh, you’re good at solving problems, ROBERT. You’re so good, I’m starting to feel that I can’t possibly be around you. You totally get me, and it makes me very anxious.

ROBERT DE NIRO
What? Since when is being affable, competent and flexible a bad thing? If I start acting like an incompetent bastard instead, will you want to keep me?

ANNE HATHAWAY
Oh, never mind.

ROBERT DE NIRO
Here, have some chicken soup.

ANNE HATHAWAY
Mmmm….

(passes out, starts to snore)

ROBERT DE NIRO
If I wasn’t such a flexible guy, this would be awkward, and she might wonder if it’s been laced with something once she revives, but I’ll roll with it.

INT. ANNE’s HOME – NEXT MORNING

ROBERT meets ANNE’s stay-at-home husband, ANDERS HOLM, and adorable daughter, JOJO KUSHNER, because apparently, he’s decided to assume permanent CHAUFFERING DUTIES.

ANDERS HOLM
Honey, if you’re not too tired tonight, maybe we could try having sex?

ANNE HATHAWAY
Um, okay…

ANDERS HOLM
Our daughter has a birthday party coming up – who’s going to take her?

ANNE HATHAWAY
We have a daughter?

ANDERS HOLM
Yes, it’s apparently not enough for you to neglect just me. Double the stress, double the guilt.

ROBERT DE NIRO
I can take her because I’ve got superpowers that allow me to both be at the office and at the park simultaneously.

JOJO KUSHNER
Yay! I want ROBERT to be my new best grandpa.

ANDERS HOLM
How did you manage to find a guy who’s Dear Abby, Miss Manners and Mary Poppins all rolled into one?

ANNE HATHAWAY
(busy texting ADAM about possibility of transferring ROBERT)
What?

INT. OFFICE CONFERENCE ROOM

ADAM DE VINE
ANNE, the people investing in this company have decided that you’re too stressed and flaky, so we need to bring in a MALE CEO to help you out.

ANNE HATHAWAY
Wow, have we suddenly traveled back in time to the Mad Men era? Is my town car really a De Lorean in disguise?

ADAM DE VINE
Don’t be silly – everyone loves you, and it’s not like you’re being fired. It’s just that this movie is in desperate need of a plot. You see, ROBERT is too darned agreeable for there to be any real tension.

ADAM leaves, and ANNE begins to weep.

Suddenly, empathy in the form of ROBERT DE NIRO knocks.

ANNE HATHAWAY
Um, what’s up?

ROBERT DE NIRO
I just need your jacket – but don’t worry, you can have a handkerchief instead. Should I grab some soup, too when I’m out? A bottle of Prozac?

ANNE HATHAWAY
OK, if it’s not too much trouble.

ROBERT DE NIRO
ANNE, you are a COMPETENT, SUCCESSFUL PROFESSIONAL, and anyone who says different is wrong.

ANNE HATHAWAY
(sniffles adorably)

ROBERT DE NIRO
(mentally checks “Boost Boss’s Self Esteem” off his to do list, exits)

ANNE decides to transfer ROBERT, but then she comes to her senses and decides to transfer him back because – MOVIE LOGIC.

INT. THE CAR

ANNE HATHAWAY is doing eight different things simultaneously.

ANNE HATHAWAY
(on speaker phone)
Mom, I’m so stressed because one of the zoom in links on our website stopped working, and we’re losing business.

ANNE’s MOM
I’m not surprised at all. I have no idea what that even is, but I’m sure it’s your fault.

ANNE HATHAWAY
(types something derogatory, then sends it to the wrong person – her mom! Uh oh.)

ROBERT DE NIRO
Never fear, I have a solution.

ANNE HATHAWAY
No offense, but I’m screwed once Mom comes home and checks her personal email.

ROBERT DE NIRO
(real solution)
How about if I enlist some of my trusty colleagues, and we break into your mother’s house and steal her computer?

ANNE HATHAWAY
Ha, ha, good one – no wait, you’re actually serious. WTF, do you have multiple personalities?

ROBERT DE NIRO
No, but this MOVIE seems to. Excuse me for a second.

(goes into phone booth, changes into costume, emerges as Super Bob, and saves the day)

EXT. ANNE’S NEIGHBORHOOD

ROBERT DE NIRO is chauffeuring JOJO when he spots ANDERS with ANOTHER WOMAN. Double uh oh.

INT. THE KITCHEN OF UNSPOKEN BUT PALPABLE SHAME

ROBERT DE NIRO
I think we both know why I’m here.

ANDERS HOLM
Well, you may be here, but SHE never is. I love her, but a guy’s got needs.

ROBERT DE NIRO
I’m going to leave it up to you to do the right thing. Meanwhile, I’m off with ANNE to meet a POTENTIAL CEO.

INT. A HOTEL ROOM

ANNE HATHAWAY
Can I come in?

ROBERT DE NIRO
Be my guest. You do realize that this movie just got 100 more degrees of awkward, right?

ANNE enters in her BATHROBE, kicks off her SHOES, grabs SNACKS from the mini-bar and CURLS UP ADORABLY in BED next to ROBERT.

ROBERT DE NIRO
You certainly took me literally. What’s up?

ANNE HATHAWAY
I know I should hire the CEO since he sounds perfect, but I just can’t release my grip on the remote. Also, my husband is having an affair – do you think he’ll stop?

ROBERT DE NIRO
ANNE, you’re a SUCCESSFUL, COMPETENT PROFESSIONAL, and I think you should do whatever you feel is best. But as for ANDERS, no, I don’t think he’ll change.

ANNE HATHAWAY
The thing is, if I DIVORCE ANDERS, then no one will ever want to marry me again, and I’ll be BURIED ALONE. Gosh, we really are back in the fifties.

ROBERT DE NIRO
(real solution)
You can be buried with me and my late wife. But I’m pretty sure you have a few years to go before you should start worrying about that. Boy, this movie took a morbid turn.

ANNE HATHAWAY
Oh, ROBERT, what would I do without you?

ROBERT DE NIRO
(under breath)
Well, you could do what many in the audience are thinking and simply make ME the CEO. Presto, problem solved.

ANNE HATHAWAY
What?

ROBERT DE NIRO
Nothing. Shall I escort you back to your room and tuck you in – in a platonic manner?

ANNE HATHAWAY
Cool!

In the end, ANNE decides to go it SOLO, at least work-wise. Also ANDERS reforms, and all the other obstacles magically vanish, and they live happily ever after.

AUDIENCE
Why can’t my life be more like a NANCY MYERS’ movie?

END

A Look Back: Not Another Teen Movie

In order to really enjoy “Not Another Teen Movie,” you should be familiar with “She’s All That,” in which Freddie Prinze Jr. plays a popular jock who makes a bet with his cocky best friend that he can turn their high school’s homeliest girl (Rachael Leigh Cook) into the prom queen. Of course, you have only to look at the “SAT” DVD cover to realize that this transformation is successful, but that’s unnecessary if you’ve seen any teen makeover movie before. In those kinds of movies, every major flaw is fixable, including unappealing personality traits like, say, being a politically correct feminist as Cook is portrayed in “SAT.” “NATM” acknowledges that from the beginning, which, despite its overuse of gross-out gags, makes it superior to most mainstream movies with teens in them.

In addition, as you’d expect from the title, “NATM,” takes aim at just about every teen movie trope that exists – from the slow clap to the stipulation that the token black character exists solely to play the sidekick and say things like, “Shit,” and “Damn, that’s whack!” Most of the John Hughes’ oeuvre gets referenced multiple times, and other movies from “American Pie” to “Varsity Blues,” are alluded to. All the characters in “NATM” are aware that they are playing stereotypes, which makes their tongue-in-cheek references either hilarious or annoying, depending on your viewpoint.

“NATM,” begins with its heroine (Chyler Leigh) masturbating in bed the morning of her sixteenth birthday, while watching (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) “She’s All That.” After being caught by her dirt poor father (Randy Quaid), annoying little brother (Cody McManis) and various others, Chyler dons paint stained overalls and a bad attitude and heads off to school, where we meet a dizzying array of characters. Of course, Chyler is an outcast, but she does have a loyal male best friend (Eric Jungmann) who appears to be parodying “Duckie” in “Pretty In Pink.” (Hint: His idea of friendship is to spend Friday night outside her window endlessly screaming her name.) Unbeknownst to Chyler, popular jock Chris Evans has made a bet with his cocky best friend that he can transform Chyler into prom queen. Let the high jinks begin.

When we first meet him, Chris is filthy rich and worshiped by all the girls (and a few guys), but currently under a cloud because he made a major mistake in his last varsity football game. His other jock friend, played by Ron Lester (parodying his own character in “Varsity Blues”) has troubles, too, because he keeps getting concussions that go untreated. (“Oh, Coach says it’s normal to bleed from the ears.”) Chris has also been dumped by his hot girlfriend (Jaime Pressly) because she has found someone deeper: a guy carrying a camcorder and trailed by a plastic bag. Luckily, he has his sister (Mia Kirshner) to help with the makeover, although she is more interested in seducing him.

At the same time, Chris is trying to woo Chyler, multiple plots are unfolding around them, including:

1. An earnest freshman makes a vow with his two pals to lose his virginity by the end of his high school career. Obstacles include surviving detention and finding a time when the object of his affections is not entering a room in slow motion (which means everyone must shut up and freeze), so that he can finally deliver to her….a letter. (Yes, it is now somewhat dated.)

2. Three new students arrive: a sexy foreign exchange student, a perky cheerleader wannabe with Tourette’s, and a senior citizen going undercover to do a news story on today’s youth.

3. A good student whose parents have left him alone for the week is hosting what promises to be a really cool house party.

Meanwhile Randy, an alcoholic but well-meaning father, attempts to deal with his daughter’s sudden transformation, not to mention her attempts to have cozy father-daughter talks like Molly Ringwald does with her dad in “PIP.” Eventually, Chyler makes it to the prom, after all the characters have participated in a musical number, only to find that yet another dance number is unfolding (directly mocking the scene in “SAT” where everyone boogies like a professional to “Rockefeller Skank”). Of course, she finds out about the bet, is devastated and takes drastic action – heading to art school in Europe.  Meanwhile, the reformed cool guy (Chris) and the love struck best friend (Eric) must literally race against time to see which one Chyler will ultimately prefer.

This movie has everything: a raucous party, a big football game, a makeover scene, dance numbers, the prom, and of course, the scene where the hero must declare his love in front of an approving impromptu audience.  Here there’s a twist, but “NATM” opts for a happy ending, even if it salts it by having Molly Ringwald make a cameo and mutter, “Teenagers.”

A Look Back: Napoleon Dynamite

Over the years, I have seen a lot of indie movies come and go at a particular art house cinema about 45 minutes away, but only one movie, to my knowledge, has ever spent an entire summer and then part of fall there, and that honor goes to “Napoleon Dynamite.”  That movie came and wouldn’t leave, probably because so many people went back to see it multiple times.  Unlike lots of indies, it was not destined to be seen just by a very choosy group of moviegoers or only made accessible to the mainstream once it snagged an Oscar nomination.  I also noticed that, unlike a lot of movies, indies or not, people tended to have very strong reactions either way after viewing it, claiming it as one of the funniest movies they’d ever seen or saying something along the lines of, “Well, I went and saw it – but I still don’t get why half the audience was in stitches most of the time.”  Critics also had polar reactions either loving the movie or calling it mean-spirited.  I guess all that proves is that some things really are in the eye of the beholder.

In “Napoleon Dynamite,” Jon Heder plays the titular hero (or antihero, it’s up to you), an apathetic Midwestern teenager who, like Anne Hathaway in “The Princess Diaries,” begins the movie with a frizzy perm and glasses, but does not get a makeover and wind up with the most popular member of the opposite sex like “TPD.”  Nor is he the kind of Hollywood-friendly male outcast, who is usually along the lines of an alt-music-listening, poetry -writing, acoustic-guitar-strumming outcast.  Alas, for those who prefer that kind, Jon is more the llama-taunting, Tater-Tot-hoarding, action-figure-playing-with, liger-doodling outcast.  He is definitely more likely to woo a girl by drawing her a picture (and then bragging how “realistic” it is to her face) than say, hold up a boombox outside her house in the rain.

But just as you may be thinking that Jon is one of the biggest geeks to ever grace the screen, you meet his thirty-something brother, Kip, (Aaron Ruell).  The two of them live with their grandmother (the fate of their parents is never alluded to), who, because of the kind of whimsical accident indie movie characters are prone to, sends their uncle (Jon Gries) to watch them.  This makes sense because given from what we see of Aaron’s day (trolling the Internet for hot babes), someone has to play the adult.  Jon is an aging former high school football hero whose ambition is to buy a time machine to go back to that period in his life, and to fund this, he goes door-to-door selling herbal breast enhancements, which does not exactly make him a positive male role model, but at least he has an income of sorts.  However, his choice of profession and general obnoxiousness prompts Jon to urge him to get lost as he is lowering his social standing at school.  And even the most charitable viewer will find themselves thinking, how could it get any possibly lower?

At school, surprisingly enough, Jon is unpopular, but things get better when he meets a new student (Efren Ramirez) who has a “sweet” bike, is (sort of) good at hooking up with chicks, including their classmate, Tina Majorino, who also sells things door-to-door, and eventually runs for class president in order for the movie to have some semblance of plot.  Jon gets a crush on Tina, though they have a kind of unique courtship, and Efren goes up against the most popular girl at school, and the results are as close to a slow-clap speech at the prom about how we are all, in fact, outcasts of a sort, as you’re going to get in this movie.

As for Aaron, he finally meets his Internet babe in the flesh and gets a makeover that has to be seen to be believed.  And their grandmother returns, presumably healed.  I’m not sure everyone in the movie really learns a traditional kind of life lesson, but then, that’s part of its charm.  For some people, that is.